At least three civilians were killed and as many as 30 people wounded Friday when troops from Myanmar’s military launched an attack on two townships in northern Rakhine state near where the insurgent Arakan Army (AA) had carried out an ambush on government troops, according to residents.
Residents of Mrauk-U township and nearby Kyauktaw township told RFA’s Myanmar Service that the attack, which took place early on Friday morning, involved light arms fire and the firing of mortars on several villages, a hospital, and a camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs).
Three residents of Tharsi village in Kyauktaw were killed in the attack, while around 30 people—including at least four children—were injured in total, they said.
One villager, who spoke on condition of anonymity fearing reprisal by the military, told RFA that in addition to the three killed, five people were wounded in Tharsi, and residents were not able to bring them to a medical center for treatment until Friday evening, as local roads were closed. More than a dozen homes were torched in both Tharsi and nearby Tinnma village, they said.
“Military troops entered the village around 11:00 a.m. and fired their weapons,” the villager said.
“A girl and two men were killed on the spot. They were hiding in the paddy granary and [the troops] shot them on purpose. They said it was in response to an AA attack near a mine along the road east of the village,” they added.
“Five were injured. We were unable to call the ambulance from the humanitarian group in town. Everyone from the village fled.”
An elderly resident of Kyauktaw’s Thayat Tabin Theintan village, who also declined to be named, told RFA that a convoy of eight military vehicles fired its weapons into the village as it traveled along the highway connecting Kyauktaw and Mrauk-U townships.
“The eight military vehicles fired randomly into the village, leaving three injured,” they said. “One of [those injured], a girl, was critically wounded after being shot in the head.”
“The villagers were injured in their homes. This wasn’t a battle. [The military] indiscriminately fired into the villages as they traveled from Mrauk-U to Kyauktaw."
The three injured villagers were transported to a hospital in the Rakhine state capital Sittwe by a local humanitarian group, the elderly resident said.
A Muslim resident of Paung Toke village in Mrauk-U said that nine Muslims were injured when the military opened fire there.
Residents of Tainnyo village in Mrauk-U, including the village chief Wai Hla Aung, said 16 people were injured when troops fired light and heavy weapons on an IDP camp and hospital in the area.
Wai Hla Aung added that the attack was in response to an ambush explosion set by the AA—a mostly ethnic Rakhine force that seeks greater autonomy in Rakhine state—at an area mine.
“They fired into Tainnyo village, including at a hospital and IDP camp,” he said.
“One resident of Tainnyo village was injured in the arm by a blast. A bullet grazed the neck of a patient at Tainnyo Hospital. Ten people from the IDP camp were injured. A total of 12 people were wounded.”
Tainnyo Hospital was temporarily closed and all the staff were transported to the seat of Mrauk-U, he said.
Khine Thukha, a spokesperson for the AA, confirmed that on Thursday evening, soldiers from his ethnic army had ambushed a military convoy of 17 vehicles near the mine as they traveled from neighboring Minbya township to Mrauk-U.
“This morning, although there were no more clashes, the Myanmar military fired their guns into the villages along the road between Mrauk-U and Kyauktaw.”
Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun of the Myanmar military's Information Committee said he was unaware of Friday’s attack, but suggested that area villages harbor insurgent soldiers.
“AA soldiers are taking shelter in these villages—they use them as a shield to attack military troops, so our troops were likely firing back at them,” he said.
“There is nothing to attack between Mrauk-U and Kyauktaw. Military troops or convoys won't fire their weapons unless they are provoked first. We diligently follow the rules and regulations required for troops during battle … Every troop has the right to defend themselves if they are shot at first.”
Reports of Friday’s attack came after ethnic Rakhines told RFA earlier this week that at least two civilians accused of being members of the AA died in military custody in recent weeks.
At least 15 ethnic Rakhine civilians died in military custody last year, they said.
The Rakhine Ethnics Congress, a regional relief organization, said in January that the IDP population in the state had reached more than 100,000, up from the November tally of 92,500 villagers who had fled their homes due to fighting between Myanmar forces and the rebel Arakan Army.