Mortar shelling in Myanmar’s war-ravaged northern Rakhine state on Monday night killed three civilians, including two children, and injured six others, according to volunteers at the scene and local residents, who blamed the government military for the deadly attack amid ongoing fighting with a rebel ethnic army.
Myanmar forces denied responsibility for the blast in Mrauk-U town’s Ale Zay quarter, saying it may have occurred when children played with unexploded ordnance from the armed conflict with the Arakan Army (AA), an ethnic Rakhine force seeking greater autonomy in the state.
Among those killed were Nu Nu Win, 24, and her son, four-year-old Nyan Lin Htet, and a one-year-old girl, Mee Chey Bu, said volunteers who helped the wounded after the explosion in the downtown residential quarter.
Khin Maung Yin, a doctor and the head of Mrauk-U Township Hospital, said the physicians are still treating four of the injured.
“Three patients have died, [and] three of the four injured patients have only minor injuries,” he told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
“Another one lost the lower part of his right leg in the blast,” he said, adding that a pregnant woman among the injured was in good condition.
“We have covered everything that needs to be done,” Khin Maung Yin said. “We have the specialists to take care of them.”
The three deceased residents meanwhile were buried in the Mrauk-U cemetery on Tuesday.
Hla Maung Thar, father of Nu Nu Win, said he believes that his daughter and grandson perished when shells fell near their housing compound.
“The blast site is about 300 feet from our house,” he told RFA. “My daughter went out to visit a nearby house. Five minutes after she left, I heard the blast, and the neighbors cried out that my daughter was down.”
“I don’t know where the mortar shelling came from,” he said. “When I got there, I saw my daughter lying with her eyes out.”
Mortar shell or landmine?
A statement issued by the AA accused Myanmar forces of blatantly committing war crimes by firing mortar shells into villages and downtown neighborhoods in Mrauk-U township, despite current legal action against Myanmar, its leaders, and military commanders on state-sponsored genocide charges in three international courts.
Colonel Win Zaw Oo, spokesman for the military’s Western Command, said Myanmar soldiers were not responsible for the deadly shelling and that there were no armed clashes in the area.
“As I learned from my own inquiry, an unexploded mortar shell was found in the monastery in that area,” he said. “It exploded when a woman smashed the shell. Nobody can tell precisely whether it was a mortar shell or a landmine.”
The military dispatched investigators to probe the scene, he added.
“The police are still investigating the cause of the blast,” Win Zaw Oo said. “When we determine the cause, we will make an announcement.”
Hostilities between the Myanmar military and the AA escalated a year ago in northern Rakhine state, resulting in dozens of civilian deaths and displacing more than 90,000 villagers.
Earlier on Monday, three civilians were injured when an artillery shell fell on the village of Na Leik in Mrauk-U township at about 1 p.m., the online journal The Irrawaddy reported, citing a village-tract administrator.
Myanmar forces and the AA had engaged in hostilities near the village since Sunday, residents told the publication, though they said they did not know which side fired the shell.
Five civilians were also injured by shells in Mrauk-U township’s Yarshaypyin village on Sunday, and others fled when Myanmar soldiers entered the community, local residents told The Irrawaddy.
Reported by Min Thein Aung for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.