Rights experts are again criticizing the Myanmar military for possible international law violations after reports that another civilian died in custody amid fighting between national forces and the Arakan Army (AA) in western Myanmar’s Rakhine and Chin states.
According to RFA’s reporting, at least 14 persons died of injuries they received while in military or police custody or detention between March and July during the ongoing armed conflict. Seven were from Rathedaung township, six were from Mrauk-U township, and one was from Kyauktaw township.
Government soldiers have been rounding up men and boys in villages close to battles zones on suspicions of supporting the AA, an ethnic Rakhine military that is fighting for greater autonomy in the state, then holding them in detention and interrogating them.
The latest civilian to die at the hands of soldiers was Zaw Win Hlaing from Shwe Tun Phyu village in Mrauk-U township, who was arrested by soldiers on June 19 as he returned home from another village and was subjected to five days of interrogation. After he died on Monday, his mother told RFA’s Myanmar Service that her son said he was beaten with rocks while in custody.
One child was killed and two other villagers were injured by gunfire by Myanmar soldiers in war-torn Rakhine state’s Kyauktaw township Sunday evening, amid wider armed conflict with a rebel ethnic military in the country’s western region, villagers said.
The shooting, which occurred in an area between Myauk Taung and Marlar Taung villages east of the Kaladan River, left 10-year-old Athein Chae dead, said Aung Hla Sein, the administrative head of Myauk Taung village.
“There is a pagoda near our village,” he said. “We heard gun shots around 6 p.m. and they stopped around 7 p.m. A young girl who lived in the northern side of our village was shot and killed.”
“Villagers said the shooting was by the military in response to a recent mine attack on their troops,” he said.
The Myanmar military said that it engaged in a firefight with the Arakan Army, an ethnic Rakhine army that is battling government forces for autonomy in the state, after rebel soldiers attacked a convoy with mines and fired on its troops from Myauk Taung village.
“The military convoy was passing through the area near Marlar Taung village,” said Win Zaw Oo, spokesman for the military’s Western Regional Command, which is responsible for Rakhine state. “While the troops conducted a clearance operation, AA troops fired at them from inside the village. Then, [our] troops shot back at them.
Myanmar troops seized an Arakan Army training camp the hills of turbulent Rakhine state’s Mrauk-U township on Saturday, including weapons, ammunition, and food reserves, a government military spokesman said, though a representative for the rebel group denied the claim, suggesting that it was a fabrication.
Brigadier General Win Zaw Oo, spokesman for the military’s Western Regional Command which is responsible for Rakhine state, told RFA’s Myanmar Service that the AA set up the base east of Pan Myaung village as a temporary camp while fighting government soldiers.
“We have been trying to capture the facility step-by-step since March 19 during [our] clearance operations,” he said. “We first had armed engagements with them before we captured it around 2:30 p.m. yesterday.”
“As it was announced, we found huts and residential facilities for 200-300 people and trenches,” he said. “We also found some equipment used for training.”
Win Zaw Oo said the seizure of the camp was the second training facility the Myanmar Army had captured in its battles with the AA which escalated early this year after Arakan fighters carried out deadly attacks on police outposts in northern Rakhine.
Myanmar forces took hold of the other camp east of Tain Nyo village north of Mrauk-U in March.
Myanmar’s Rakhine state government has banned state employees from collecting donations to help thousands of residents displaced by hostilities between national forces and the rebel Arakan Army (AA), fearing that the funds are being diverted to the ethnic fighters, according to an internal memo issued by the state’s education department.
The memo dated April 5 instructed education department employees to refrain from gathering donations for internally displaced persons (IDPs), citing concerns that some of the money is being passed on to the AA to assist the ethnic army in its battle for greater autonomy in Rakhine state.
When contacted by RFA’s Myanmar Service, state education official Aung Than Myint confirmed the news and said he issued the departmental circular per the state government’s instructions.
Police in Rakhine have also been stopping local NGOs from collecting money in some areas of the state, much to the indignation of local residents who want to provide humanitarian aid to some of the estimated 31,000 people who have fled their homes due to the armed conflict.
Government officials have not permitted many international and domestic relief groups to operate in the state, except for the International Committee of the Red Cross and the World Food Programme.
The Myanmar military unleashed helicopter and jet strikes in response to the rebel Arakan Army’s (AA) on-the-ground attacks on a police residential unit and battalion headquarters believed to contain heavy arms belonging to government troops in war-ravaged Rakhine state’s Mrauk-U township, with spokesmen for the two forces releasing competing, imprecise casualty counts.
The AA began its armed assault around 10 p.m. Tuesday, starting with the police battalion’s family residential quarters, while around 400 Arakan fighters conducted a another attack on the police headquarters at about 3 a.m. Wednesday, said Myanmar military spokesman Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun.
Government forces used aerial strikes to counter the AA’s massive offensives, he and local residents said.
AA soldiers entered the police battalion headquarters after they seized the residential unit, but retreated at about 5:30 a.m. Wednesday when military reinforcements arrived and pushed them back, Zaw Min Tun said.
“Around 10:05 p.m. last night, they attacked three locations at the police battalion headquarters and the police’s family residential quarters,” he said. “They stopped after we fired back.”
The Myanmar military on Sunday cautioned the public not to believe “false and fabricated information and propaganda” spread by the Arakan Army (AA), whose soldiers it accused of disguising themselves as local residents of areas where government forces are fighting the rebel group in western Myanmar’s Rakhine state.
The AA swiftly reject the assertions as psychological warfare by the military.
The army’s True News Information Team also urged the public to inform authorities if they come across any AA soldiers as the Myanmar army aims to maintain stability in Rakhine state by eliminating the Arakan force.
“AA insurgents taking positions in urban wards and villages as cover committed terror acts such as opening fire and committing mine attacks [on] Tatmadaw [Myanmar military] columns which were on security duty,” said a statement issued by the information team.
Following skirmishes near villages and wards, AA insurgents disguised themselves as villagers and fabricated information while they ordered local Rakhine ethnics from wards and villages under their threats to spread the fake news, it said.
“Then, they posted such fabricated information on the social network and websites as attempts to propagate fabricated news for causing misunderstanding among the people,” the statement said.
Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun, secretary of the Myanmar military’s True News Information Team, said villagers residing in areas near to where the AA insurgents are positioned fear the rebel force.
An armed clash between Myanmar soldiers and rebel Arakan Army (AA) fighters in a village in Mrauk-U township in western Myanmar’s violence-ridden Rakhine state on Friday left two villagers dead and seven others injured, local residents and a Rakhine lawmaker said.
The latest skirmish in a conflict that heated up late last year came as a government spokesman gave a partial tally of casualties. Fighting has claimed the lives of 58 AA soldiers, 27 policemen, and 12 civilians, while displacing 17,354 people, President’s Office spokesman Zaw Htay said.
Area residents blamed the government army for Friday’s carnage in Outthagan village, though both Myanmar and Arakan forces denied responsibility, saying they are trying to avoid civilian casualties in their ongoing skirmishes.
The villagers told RFA’s Myanmar Service that a combined force of Myanmar Army and police fired their weapons from a location near Tain Nyo bridge into the village located east of the bridge in northern Mrauk-U township.
Local witnesses said the joint military and police force came from the direction of Tain Nyo village along the Yangon-Sittwe Highway and fired into a shop about a half-mile from near the entrance of Outthagan village, killing one woman and seriously injuring another woman who is in critical condition at Sittwe Hospital.
The deceased woman, 25-year-old Sabai from Kone Baung village in Yan Byae township, operated an eatery with her family near the Yangon-Sittwe Highway.
Intense fighting this week between Myanmar forces and the rebel Arakan Army (AA) in Rakhine state’s Buthidaung and Rathedaung townships has displaced 2,000 villagers, raising the prospect of additional food and water shortages in the war-torn region, relief and disaster management workers said Wednesday.
The total number of people displaced by armed conflict in Rakhine has now reached an estimated 22,000, with about 16,000 staying in temporary relief camps across the region and the remainder living with friends or relatives, they said.
The state government, however, estimates that the displaced population stood at 11,300 as of March 20, the latest figure available, according an official at the state Disaster Management Department.
“About 30 camps face shortages of drinking water,” said Zaw Zaw Tun, a relief volunteer in the region and secretary of the Rakhine Ethnic Congress “Food supplies are also needed for some 7,000 to 8,000 who fled from their villages following artillery and gunfire last week.”
“Relief organizations are not ready and can’t travel in the region due to security concerns,” he told RFA’s Myanmar Service. It’s difficult for them to travel by land, so [displaced civilians] are facing food shortages.”
Shortages of drinking water are more acute in camps in Rathedaung and Ponnagyun townships, Zaw Zaw Tun added.
Maung Kyaw Sann, a relief volunteer in Ponnagyun’s Auk Myat Hle village, said food and tarpaulins are urgently needed.
“Large amounts of food supplies are needed,” he said. “Everything has run out, and they need everything. We want the government to provide them [with what is needed].”
Hostilities between the Arakan Army (AA), a Buddhist Rakhine military fighting for autonomy in western Myanmar’s Rakhine state, and the government military erupted a new late last year and have continued into 2019. The government branded the AA a terrorist organization after its soldiers carried out coordinated attacks on four police outposts near Myanmar’s border with Bangladesh on Jan. 4, killing 13 officers injuring nine others. A similar assault on another police outpost in Ponnakyun township’s Yoetayoke village in early March killed nine officers. The government has also accused the AA of having ties to the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), a Muslim military group that carried out deadly raids on police outposts in northern Rakhine state in August 2017, prompting a brutal military crackdown on Rohingya Muslims. In an exclusive interview with Elizabeth Janmar from RFA’s Myanmar Service, Brigadier General Nyo Tun Aung, the AA’s deputy commander-in-chief, discusses deadly raids on police outposts, the government’s accusation that the AA is linked to ARSA, and what it would take to end the fighting in Rakhine state.Nyo Tun Aung: We warned police first to do their own jobs. We released statements and then sent them warning letters. Most police officials are transferred from the military. One-third of the security guards are former soldiers. These so-called police who are mostly former soldiers arrested, persecuted, and charged our people whenever they wanted, mostly under Section 17 (1) [of Myanmar’s colonial-era Unlawful Associations Act, which carries a three-year prison sentence for those who interact with an unlawful association, such as an ethnic armed group like the AA]. Most people are talking about the AA’s attack on police posts on Jan. 4, but they don’t know what happened before Jan. 4. As we had many clashes and a lot of pressure, we had to do it as a military outlet. January 4 is [Myanmar’s] Independence Day, but there is no weekend or holiday in war. We can’t say, “Let’s stop fighting for a while because it is the weekend.” If we keep having this pressure — offensives and heavy weapons attacks by them — then we will strike them back like we did on Jan. 4 and during the attack the Yoetayoke Police Station [in Ponnakyun township on March 9]. But, I can say that we will not do anything to policemen who genuinely provide protection to people. Some Rakhine ethnics died during the Yoetayoke village police station attack, and we want to apologize for them.
The Myanmar military has created a three-member investigative panel to probe the conduct of the armed forces during a 2017 crackdown on Rohingya Muslims in northern Rakhine state that left thousands dead and forced more than 740,000 to flee to Bangladesh, the country’s commander-in-chief’s office announced Monday.
The campaign of violence by security forces included extrajudicial killings of Rohingya, torture, sexual assaults, and the torching of Rohingya communities, which the government and the army has denied, while defending the campaign as necessary measure to stop a group of military Muslims that conducted deadly attacks on police outposts in the region.
From de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi on down, Myanmar has shrugged off credible testimony of the brutality, satellite images of burned villages, and other evidence of atrocities that have sparked calls by rights groups and United Nations officials to bring the perpetrators to justice before the International Criminal Court (ICC) or another tribunal.
Against that background, human rights groups were dismissive of the proposed investigation by a Myanmar military that they see as the chief culprit in the ethnic cleansing of Rohingya and other atrocities in the country. Earlier investigations by the military were seen by outside experts as a whitewash.