As the Myanmar government dismissed a ceasefire offered by the rebel Arakan Army, at least two villages were set on fire and two civilians shot dead allegedly by the military in war-ridden Rakhine state, witnesses said Friday.
An estimated 170 houses were torched Thursday in Phayar Paung and Taung Pauk villages, while the bodies of two Phayar Paung residents were found with gunshot wounds.
The two dead men were ordinary civilians with no ties to the Arakan Army (AA), villagers said.
A Myanmar military spokesman denied that troops had burned down villages and said that a military vehicle carrying police was attacked by AA landmine blasts.
The AA has been fighting Myanmar forces since later 2018 in a quest for greater autonomy for ethnic Rakhines in the state.
The latest destructive attack in the 21-month-old Rakhine conflict came after Myanmar government spokesman Zay Htay dismissed a recent offer from the AA and two allied ethnic armies to extend a temporary unilateral cease-fire until early November to allow for voting in general elections.
The ceasefire, which does not extend to cases where Myanmar forces launch offensives, was “propaganda,” he said.
“The AA speaks about cease-fires, but on the contrary, they are planting and detonating bombs. They are hypocritical,” ZawHtay said during a news conference in Naypyidaw.
“If they want peace, then they should work on this process,” he said, urging the AA — declared a terrorist organization by the Myanmar government in March — to join political talks to show it is serious.
Thursday’s military attack on civilians and torching of the villages came after a provocation by AA fighters along the Sittwe-Yangon roadway, the area’s main thoroughfare, local residents said.
Meanwhile, AA spokesperson Khine Thukha said the rebel force did not conduct landmine attacks in Kyauktaw township on Thursday evening.
“The military made up the attack as an excuse to burn down the villages,” he said. “The killing of the villagers and the arson in the villages are crimes committed by the military troops.”
The two bodies the Myanmar military said were AA soldiers, were in fact those of civilians who had no connections to the AA, he added.
The Myanmar military has been implicated in other village shootings and burnings in conflict zones in Rakhine state.
Myanmar troops were accused of torching hundreds of homes Kyauktaw township’s Tin Ma village in March, though military officials later denied the allegation and claimed that there was no fire in the community.
However, on April 22, the government provided 90 million kyats (US$66,000) to rebuild the 500 homes.
Nearly 300 civilians have died and more than 600 have been injured in the armed conflict since December 2018, according to an RFA tally. Roughly 200,000 others have fled their homes amid the fighting and now live in official or makeshift displacement camps. (Source: RFA)