Twenty one civilians were killed over the weekend due to shelling and airstrikes by government forces in western Myanmar’s Chin state. The intense clashes has also injured more than two dozen others, and prompted more than 1,000 villagers to flee their homes, local lawmakers said Monday, March 16.
Casualties were reported in four villages which sit near Meewa Hill, where Myanmar forces said they fought back against rebel Arakan Army (AA) soldiers who tried to capture a government military outpost located on top of the hill.
Residents of Wetma along with those from nearby Pharwa and Pyanwa villages fled to the town of Samee, about 20 miles away, by land and water, said Chin state parliamentarian Salai Myo Htike from the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) party.
Some elderly residents who could not flee on foot are being transported by small motorboats, he said.
“Shelling hit the village yesterday, and people are now too afraid to live in the area,” he said. “Now, people from most villages in the area are fleeing to safe places in the region.”
The lawmaker also said he had asked the state government to provide assistance to the internally displaced persons (IDPs) and that a primary school in Samee has been designated as a safe haven for them.
“We are now making plans to provide food supplies and other assistance to these IDPs. The local people are moving to Samee,” ZoBwe, chairman of the Chin state parliament, told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
Myanmar forces and the rebel Arakan Army (AA) have been engaged in fierce fighting in northern Rakhine state and Chin’s Paletwa township for more than a year, as the mostly ethnic Rakhine army seeks greater autonomy in the region.
Dozens of civilians have died during the uptick in hostilities, which began in late 2018, and about 110,000 have been displaced, according to a local NGO tallying IDP numbers.
RFA was unable to reach Myanmar military spokesman Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun for comment.
But he told online news site The Irrawaddy that it was difficult to determine which side caused the casualties during the AA’s offensive which forced Myanmar soldiers to fire back.
He also cited a statement issued by the military commander-in-chief’s office that said AA insurgents surrounded a Myanmar military outpost on Meewa hill, giving government forces no choice but to fire back.
“Because of the mutual fire, some of the villagers died and [were]injured,” the statement said
AA spokesman Khine Thukha said no battles had occurred in Wetma, Pharwa, and Pyanwa villages.
“I conclude that the [Myanmar] military must have specific intentions because it is intentionally attacking the villages from aircraft and forcing the villagers to flee.”
“The military is assuming that AA troops are getting food supplies as long as there are villagers in the village,” he said. “That’s why the military is trying to eliminate them all.”
An AA statement issued Monday said Arakan fighters had clashed with government troops near Meewa for more than 40 days since Feb. 5, according to The Irrawaddy. (Source: RFA)