AA Gathering Evidence of Tatmadaw’s Human Rights Abuses

By Moe Myint 3 January 2019

YANGON—Arakan Army (AA) spokesperson U Khine Thukha told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday that the group is gathering evidence of human rights abuses committed by Tatmadaw (Myanmar military) soldiers and violations of the Geneva Convention during the ongoing skirmishes in northern Rakhine State and Chin State’s Paletwa Township.

The AA spokesperson pointed out that Tatmadaw columns are stationed in Buthidaung Township’s Say Taung Village, camped in a Buddhist monastery situated in an actively contested area in northern Rakhine. According to him, Tatmadaw soldiers are carrying out arbitrary arrests of civilians, are shelling artillery into the village and they have used villagers as human shields in the battlefields.

The AA’s online information page announced on Tuesday that they have already collected some evidence connecting the Tatmadaw soldiers with human rights violations and they will submit it to the international organizations. It also urges locals and civil society groups to file complaints with the AA if the Tatmadaw soldiers target civilians in the conflict zone.

On Jan. 1, a police force information Facebook page, Ye Zarni, posted information stating that while unit No. 8 of the border police and a military column were temporarily stationed in a monastery in Say Taung, Buthidaung Township, they were ambushed by 30 AA rebels and one police officer was seriously injured in the chest. After 10 minutes on fighting, the AA rebels retreated and the Tatmadaw column went after them. According to the police information page, no villagers were wounded in the fight.

The post did not elaborate on whether AA fighters fired into the village or the fighting took place at the outskirts of the village.

AA spokesperson U Khine Thukha explained that the fighting had, in fact, erupted in an area between Kan Pyin and Say Taung villages. Say Taung resident U Maung Tun Lin confirmed that fighting broke out near his village and some bullets struck the homes of villagers. According to his explanation, the monastery is situated on a hilltop which is close to a densely forested area with the village located the foot of the hill.

Ma Nwe Ni Win, a resident of Say Taung village, said bullets had struck her home during Tuesday’s fighting and that a bullet head was found inside her friend’s house. No villagers were wounded during the fighting.

“I saw some holes in my house when I get back home. No one was killed because everyone had already fled to a hillside when we heard gunfire,” said Ma Nwe Ni Win.

The AA spokesperson said, “Whenever the Burmese military come into the village, they always station [themselves] at monasteries and schools. In fact, international laws strictly prohibit an army from encamping in such public places and religious buildings.”

U Khine Thukha accused the Tatmadaw of deliberately firing into Kan Pyin Village during Tuesday’s clashes which caused the entire population on Kan Pyin Village to flee to neighboring villages. He said that around 20 heavy artillery shells, fired by the police and government troops stationed in Kun Taung, landed in Say Taung. Similarly, in separate battles in on Wednesday in Kyauktaw Township and Paletwa Township over the Chin State border, Tatmadaw units launched missiles towards the villages. AA information, based on firsthand accounts of displaced locals, says that some locals from Paletwa’s Adaung Wa Village were killed by howitzer shells on Wednesday. He urged for the international human rights organizations to look into the alleged crimes against the Rakhine community on the ground.

“They intentionally target civilians. It could even be said to be racially targeting the Rakhine. So my question is, what if there were Burmese villages in the conflict zone? Would they also fire shots in that way? Deliberately targeting civilians is obviously indicating the fact that, despite repeatedly citing union spirit, their actions show a lack of union spirit.”

As the AA and police information pages issue updates, both sides remain silent on causality numbers. Some locals claim that dozens of Tatmadaw soldiers were killed in recent clashes. When The Irrawaddy phoned a brigadier general from the military’s commander-in-chief’s office for clarification on Wednesday, he declined to comment on the matter and denied the allegations of abuses over the phone.

“As is the nature of fighting, there will surely be casualties. I cannot provide details,” said the brigadier general.

Video footage which was captured by a resident of Sin Khone Taing, a Rohingya village close to Yae Gaung Chaung and Say Taung villages, includes commentary in the Rohingya language describing the Tatmadaw troops passing through their village. Translations of the commentary says the military column briefly came into Sin Khone Taing village carrying five wounded soldiers.

The video was posted to Facebook on Tuesday on the profile named Sayad Hussin alongside text stating that the soldiers said they were hungry and requested food from the Rohingya villagers. It says the military soldiers admitted that some of their troops were killed during the fighting.

Last December, the Tatmadaw’s commander-in-chief Sen-Gen Min Aung Hlaing promised members of the Myanmar Press Council that he will ask border affairs ministers to be more open with the media. Despite this, when The Irrawaddy attempted multiple times to contact Col. Phone Tint, the Rakhine State border affairs minister, he did not answer calls. In addition, Western Command’s Col. Win Zaw Oo’s phone was switched off during repeated attempts by The Irrawaddy to contact him.

The AA has said they have no plans to reveal the number of government military causalities in order not to defend the massive offensives of the army. He declined to provide the number of government battalions and light infantries that the AA has been facing in northern Rakhine since the end of monsoon season.

“Although I cannot say the number of battalions, I’m pretty sure that they have halted operations in northern Shan recently in order to pour [more troops] into northern Rakhine. Surprisingly, they are also bringing ordinary police and border police into the battlefield for security reasons. This is an attempt to complicate the situation.” said U Khine Thukha.

Based on updates from the AA, The Irrawaddy has learned that the conflict zone is broadening, as AA and government troops continue to fight in at least five townships—Rathedaung, Buthidaung, Kyauktaw, Ponnagyun and Chin State’s Paletwa. The AA updates have made no mention of the mine attack on Rakhine State’s chief minister’s convoy on the Yangon-Sittwe highway in Mrauk U Township on Tuesday.

According to local non-profit organizations, more than 4,000 people in four townships are currently displaced and local relief groups are giving humanitarian assistance to the IDPs (internally displaced persons). Some members of relief groups operating in Paletwa Township told The Irrawaddy that military officers are not allowing aid in the form of rice bags into the area.