Renewed fighting in Myanmar has resulted in at least eight civilians killed and 17 injured by artillery shells fired by government forces in conflict-ridden Rakhine state on Monday.
Local residents and relief volunteers said wounded villagers forced to wait at military checkpoints for two hours before receiving permission to go to hospitals for treatment.
Government soldiers launched the assault on Kyauk Seik village in Ponnagyun township at about 8 a.m., killing seven men and one woman, all between the ages of 11 and 26, while the injured included two children aged three and seven, they said.
“People who were walking by the road were killed and injured by artillery blasts,” said Myint San Oo, father of one of the injured. “The military’s battalion No. 550 fired the artillery.”
Clashes between government soldiers and the rebel Arakan Army (AA) occurred near the village about 2.5 miles north of Ponnagyun town. The township has seen fierce fighting between the warring sides and is one of nine townships in Rakhine and neighboring Chin state where the government has imposed an internet blackout as a security measure.
Relief volunteers helping the affected villagers said four villagers were killed on the spot, two people died in Ponnagyun Hospital, and two others died on the way to Sittwe General Hospital.
Maung Naing from the Free Funeral Service Society, who helped the injured get to the hospital, said military and police forces at a security check points stopped their vehicles and refused to let them proceed.
“The doctor told us the injured patient was fighting for his life and needed emergency care,” he told RFA’s Myanmar Service, but security forces at the checkpoint said they had to interrogate everyone, regardless of their condition.
“The patient was sinking fast as we were held at the security gate,” Maung Naing said. “We begged them to let us pass, but they would not.”
Combined military and police have set up several security checkpoints on the highway connecting the capital Sittwe with Ponnagyun, Kyauktaw, and Mrauk-U townships, so they can check passing vehicles for any evidence linking their drivers and passengers to the AA.
Of the 13 injured villagers, 10 are currently in Ponnagyun Hospital, while the others were sent to the Intensive care Unit at Sittwe General Hospital.
Thein Maung Aye, uncle of one of those killed, told RFA that civilian casualties are unacceptable.
“I want to appeal to the leaders of the state,” he said. “The conflicts between the military and the AA have nothing to do with local civilians. They don’t cause the conflicts.”
“If these people were killed during the armed fighting, it would make sense. But this time, they [Myanmar soldiers] fired into the village on purpose. This is totally unacceptable,” he said.
Khine Thukha, spokesman for the AA, which seeks greater autonomy for ethnic Rakhine people in the state, denied any battles had taken place in the area.
“There were no battles between the AA and the military today,” he said, adding that the incident in Ponnagyun is proof that Myanmar troops are targeting Rakhine civilians.
RFA could not reach the Myanmar military for comment, though Army spokesman Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun told the Myanmar Times that clashes in the area have occurred since April 11.
Two days earlier, he told RFA that government soldiers never target civilians during military operation unless there are AA soldiers disguised as civilians in the community.
Fighting since the beginning of 2019 has killed hundreds of civilians and displaced about 157,000 others in northern Rakhine state, according to the Rakhine Ethnics Congress, a local humanitarian relief group. (Source: RFA)