About 100 houses in an abandoned village in war-ravaged western Myanmar's Paletwa township, one of the epicenters of armed conflict between the government military and the rebel Arakan Army, have been burned to the ground in an apparent act of arson, ethnic Chin sources told RFA on Wednesday.
The houses in lower Meelatwa village were torched on Tuesday amid the fighting, which began nearly 17 months ago and has raged in Chin state’s Paletwa township and in adjacent northern Rakhine state, locals said.
Roughly 30 other houses are still standing in lower Meelatwa village, they estimated.
Most of the houses in the village have been deserted since February after artillery fire prompted fearful residents to abandon their homes and seek refuge in Paletwa town and as far away as Yangon, locals said.
The sources, however, were reluctant to assign blame for the village torching to Myanmar or Arakan soldiers, who seek greater autonomy for ethnic Rakhine people in Rakhine state, which abuts Chin state.
One local villager who requested anonymity out of fear for his safety said some area residents tried to extinguish the flames, but they fled when unknown assailants fired guns at them.
“It must have been caused by arson [because] no one lives in the village,” the man told RFA, adding that his home was among those burned down.
“Yesterday, some people went there and had to flee when assailants fired guns at them,” he said. “Now, no one dares to go to the site.”
Chin state lawmaker Salai Myo Htike said the cause of the fire in the village is unknown.
“It’s hard to say how many out of about 100 houses were burned down, but I can confirm the fire,” he said. “We cannot tell if it was caused by armed groups or a forest fire.”
Chin state government spokesman Soe Htet was not available for comment.
Nearly 700 people lived in Meelatwa village, located on the east bank of the Kaladan River across from Paletwa town, before the community was abandoned.
Salai Tay Ya, director of the Chin Human Rights Organization, said that burning the abandoned village was a human rights violation.
“This is a very horrible human rights violation, no matter who the arsonists are,” he told RFA. “The villagers had plans to resettle in their former homes. Now they have lost them all.”
AA spokesman Khine Thukha blamed the arson on Myanmar troops who came down from nearby mountains, entered Meelatwa village, and burned the houses in the lower part of the community.
“Some villagers went there to put out the fires, but the government troops fired warning shots to scare them away,” he said. “The houses had been burned to the ground.”
RFA could not reach Myanmar military spokesman Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun for comment.
Letka village torching
The village burning follows the mid-may torching of at least 200 houses in abandoned Letka village in Rakhine’s Mrauk-U township.
Letka residents fled their community in April 2019 following clashes between Myanmar and Arakan forces, and sought shelter in displacement camps
Zaw Min Tun recently told the media that the AA was responsible for the arson during a battle, though no evidence has surfaced to back up the allegation.
New York-based Human Rights Watch has called for an investigation to determine who was responsible for the May 16 fire.
The Myanmar military widely used arson as an attack tactic during the 2017 crackdown on Rohingya communities in northern Rakhine state, burning down entire communities.
The violence left thousands of Rohingya dead and forced a mass exodus of about 740,000 others across the border and into Bangladesh.
Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.