Fresh fighting between Myanmar forces and the rebel Arakan Army has displaced more than 1,000 civilians in Minbya township, local villagers said Wednesday.The latest flare-up in the conflict has raged in Rakhine state for more than a year and has already uprooted 140,000 people.
Villagers from five communities in the township fled when Myanmar soldiers open fire in their areas, they said.
“People from Kyautmaw, Phone Thar Paletaung, Kwa Sone, Taung Pauk Kay and Sattara villages fled from their homes to other villages” said an area resident who declined to give his name out of fear for his safety.
“We don’t want the military to open fire on villages,” he said. “The villagers are worried about getting into trouble [but]people don’t know anything.”
Both the AA and Myanmar soldiers have apprehended villagers they believe may be abetting the enemy. Civilians have reported that government troops have interrogated and at times tortured villagers in an effort to find civilians who are helping the AA.
Myanmar soldiers “opened fire on the villages, and the villagers ran away,” said a resident of Kyautmaw who also declined to give his name out of fear for his safety.
“A military convoy is near Phone Thar Kwa Sone village,” he added. “We don’t know where they were shooting, but bullets landed on our house in Kyautmaw village. We didn’t leave when we heard that the military convoy was coming, but we fled when they opened fire on the villages.”
Thursday marks the second time that residents of the villages have been forced to flee their homes amid the 15-month-old conflict. They also left their homes in June 2019, local residents said.
Myanmar military spokesman Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun said that the government army was not engaged in any battles in Minbya township.
“There is no fighting in that area. We had fighting in the Paletwa area,” he told RFA’s Myanmar Service, referring to hostilities in a township in neighbouring Chin state.
On Monday, a Myanmar military airstrike following fierce fighting killed a child and wounded 15 people in a village in Minbya township, hours after the government formally branded the AA an unlawful association and a terrorist group.
The Myanmar military confirmed the use of helicopters to return fire against the AA, which has conducted an attack on a military training school, but denied that soldiers bombed the village.
Armed conflict intensified in late 2018 as the AA ramped up its efforts to gain greater autonomy for the ethnic Rakhine people in the state. (Source: UNHCR)