Fighting in Myanmar Rakhine State leaves five dead; draws US concern


Renewed fighting between Myanmar soldiers and the rebel Arakan Army near Kyauktaw town in war-ravaged Rakhine state resulted in five civilians dead and eight others injured, residents and members of humanitarian groups said Thursday.

The battle on Wednesday, which flared up as the U.S. State Department called on the warring sides to end hostilities and for Myanmar to permit deliveries of international humanitarian aid, lasted for 30-45 minutes, with reports of government soldiers firing indiscriminately at areas where civilians reside, they said.

Five people have died so far — four yesterday and one this morning,” said NyiPu, chairman of the local humanitarian organization Phyu Sin Myittar. “Eight others were injured.”

Among the five who died were a 14-year-old girl, three elderly men, and woman who either was middle age or a senior citizen, he said.

At least 63 civilians have been killed and more than 160 people injured during clashes between government and AA troops in northern Rakhine and in Chin’s Paletwa township between Feb. 26 and Apr. 1, according to an RFA tally.

Fighting since the beginning of 2019 has displaced about 157,000 in Rakhine state, with significant increases in the number of civilians who have fled their homes in Kyauktaw, Minbya, and Ratheduang townships in March.

Ann Thargyi, a civilian who is helping IDPs in Minbya township emphasized the need for preventive gear against the spread of the coronavirus in the camps.

“The IDPs are in urgent need of coronavirus protection kits, guidelines, and education as to how they can protect themselves,” he said. “So far, none of the international NGOs or humanitarian groups has come to the IDP camps to conduct this kind of training and provide protective gear.”

The government’s mobile internet service ban in northern Rakhine has prevented the dissemination of information about the spread of the coronavirus, which has infected 20 people and killed one as of Thursday.

A civilian told RFA Thursday that mobile internet service has been unavailable in Ann township, which has not been affected by the fighting, since March 31.

A group of ambassadors from Western countries in Myanmar, including the United States, issued a statement Wednesday calling for a global cease-fire and the free flow of information amid the spread of the coronavirus, also known as COVID-19.

“We are deeply concerned about the high level of fighting, casualties and civilian displacement occurring in Rakhine and Chin states, and the threat of further conflict in other areas,” they said.

The U.S. State Department issued a separate statement the same day, expressing deep concern over the escalating violence in northern Rakhine and Chin states, calling on the warring sides to end their hostilities and on the Myanmar government to restore internet access and permit deliveries of international humanitarian aid.

The U.S. has provided more than US$820 million in humanitarian aid to Myanmar following the onset of the brutal military crackdown on Rohingya Muslims in northern Rakhine state in 2017 that left thousands dead and drove more than 740,000 others to Bangladesh, the statement said.

On Wednesday, military spokesman Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun rejected calls for cease-fires by some civil society and ethnic groups during the coronavirus pandemic, the Myanmar Times reported.

The Myanmar military had declared a unilateral cease-fire for nine months in 2019 in some parts of the country, excluding Rakhine state, but the truce was broken and fighting has continued. (Source: RFA)