Nine Villagers Injured by Artillery Blasts in Myanmar’s Rakhine Conflict

Nine civilians, including three children and senior citizens, were injured Thursday in artillery blasts allegedly fired by the Myanmar military in two villages in war-torn Rakhine state, family members of the injured and local residents said.

Than Than Soe and Htay Htay Wai, both 14, from Sakka Ray village in Minbya township were injured along with Aung Kyaw Nu, 70, from the same community, and Myo Min Zaw, 32, from Thet Pone village.

Oo Myat Win, 6, Than Nu Khin, 29, Than Nu Win, 27, Tun Sein, 58, and Thar Maung, 58 from Kyaw Shin village in Pauktaw township, were also injured.

The casualties are the latest civilians in a nearly two-year-long war between Myanmar forces and the rebel Arakan Army (AA), which has left 303 civilians dead and injured 681 others since December 2018, according to an RFA tally. The fighting has displaced about 226,000 civilians.

The injured villagers were taken to hospitals in their respective townships, while Than Than Soe, who was critically injured, was sent to Sittwe General Hospital.

Than Than Soe’s father, Kyaw Hsan, told reporters in Sittwe that the Myanmar Navy fired the artillery blasts that wounded his daughter as she hid at home when the shelling began around 9 a.m.

“Myanmar soldiers fired the artillery,” he said. They came on two vessels and on one smaller boat. They mostly fired into the village. They fired heavy artillery four or five times.”

Kyaw Shin village resident Hsan Win said five civilians, including the six-year-old girl, were hit by explosions from the artillery fire.

“Around 1:30 p.m., an artillery shell fell into the house and exploded,” he said. “Five people were injured. The injured villagers were then taken to Pauktaw township hospital.”

Soe Tun Chey, a resident of Thet Pone village, said soldiers fired into the community as they passed Pauktaw township.

Fellow villager Myo Myint Zaw was struck on the temple by fragments from an exploding shell, he said.

No guarantee of safety

The AA, a predominantly ethnic Rakhine force fighting for greater autonomy for the Rakhine people in the state, attacked Myanmar naval vessels patrolling upstream between Pauktaw and Minbya townships on Tuesday, villagers said, but the firing into the villages a day later appeared to be unrelated to the combat.

Buddhist Abbot Ariya Wuntha of the Sakka Ray village monastery, where many residents have taken shelter, said government soldiers fired both heavy and light artillery into the community, forcing villagers to flee their homes.

“Many of them have taken shelter in my monastery,” he said. “There is no guarantee for the villagers’ safety.”

“I want to appeal to them not to target innocent civilians and villages,” he added. “Instead, I want them to safeguard the homes and lives of the villagers.”

Hla Thein Aung, a Rakhine state lawmaker for Minbya township, said the incidents were unacceptable.

“They fired weapons without any cause,” he said. “They fired on villages along the river. Humans live in these villages, not animals. They should not fire on the civilian populations. What they have done is unacceptable.”

RFA could not independently verify why Myanmar soldiers fired into the villages. Repeated calls to a military spokesman went unanswered.

‘Caught in the crossfire’

Military spokesman Major General Zaw Min Tun told RFA in early July that there could be civilian causalities amid the armed conflict in Rakhine state because AA troops were posing as civilians and embedding themselves in villages, but that Myanmar forces would never intentionally harm civilians during combat operations.

AA spokesman Khine Thukha told RFA that there was no fighting on Thursday along the border between Minbya and Pauktaw townships, and that the Myanmar military had launched indiscriminate attacks on the two communities.

“As navy vessels travel up in the river, they fire on villages along it,” he said. “They are acting out of resentment [by targeting] ethnic Rakhine people.”

In September, Thomas Andrews, the U.N’s special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, called for an immediate cease-fire in Rakhine state, decrying the mounting toll of child casualties in the war.

“Serious questions have been raised about whether these children, and growing numbers of others, are being caught in the crossfire of war, or are being deliberately targeted,” he said in a statement.

Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

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