Almost 200 Homes Set Ablaze in Myanmar's Rakhine State

By Min Aung Khine 19 May 2020

SITTWE, Rakhine State—Around 200 houses in Lekka Village, Rakhine State were burnt down this weekend in alleged arson by the Myanmar military, according to local residents.

The empty village is located in Mrauk-U Township on the Yangon-Sittwe road, some 11 kilometers north of Mrauk-U Town. Local residents fled the village for nearby camps for internally displaced people (IDPs) in April last year following clashes between the Myanmar military and the Arakan Army (AA).

According to local residents, around 150 Myanmar military soldiers arrived in Tein Nyo Village, near Lekka, on Saturday morning. Around 50 soldiers then reportedly entered Lekka at noon and left the village around 4 p.m..

“From a distance, we saw the soldiers enter the village. Around five minutes later, we heard gunshots and saw smoke. We could only watch and do nothing,” a villager from Lekka who asked for anonymity told The Irrawaddy.

The Myanmar military said in a statement on Sunday that the AA opened fire on security personnel near Lekka Village around 2:30 p.m. on Saturday. According to the military, the security personnel returned fire and the AA troops set fire to the village around 2:45 p.m. before fleeing into the mountains to the west of the village.

The military claimed the AA burned down around 20 houses, but local residents say that around 200 homes—more than half the houses in the village—were burned.

Lekka villagers said they saw their houses on fire as they were sheltering at the IDP camps nearby Tein Nyo and Pi Pin Yin villages.

“We went to see our village and found that it was reduced to ash. But it does not look like it was caused by fighting. Even the houses in sequestered corners of the village were burnt down,” a said a Lekka villager who is taking shelter at the IDP camp in Pi Pin Yin village, on condition of anonymity.

“All the houses in the center of the village were burnt down. Only some houses at the entrance of the village were left intact. We are already in deep trouble, and as the remaining houses have now been burnt, it is not any different from death for us,” she added.

The Rakhine State lawmaker for Mrauk-U Township, U Tun Tha Sein, confirmed that a school building and 193 houses were destroyed in fires in Lekka.

“There are some 300 houses in Lekka Village. A total of 193 houses and a school were burnt down. The villagers will know best who is responsible for the fire. You will know if you ask them,” the lawmaker told The Irrawaddy.

Twenty-seven men were arrested by the Myanmar military on April 10 last year in Lekka on suspicion of having ties to the AA after the AA launched an attack on a temporary military outpost and a police battalion in Mrauk-U the day before.

The villagers denied having ties to the AA and the relatives of the 27 men later claimed they were tortured during military detention.

Three Lekka residents, ages 25, 35 and 41, have since died in military detention. The Tatmadaw, as the military is known, said that one of the deaths was a suicide, one was related to a heart condition and another was drug-related.

Military spokesperson Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun told The Irrawaddy at the time that the military reported the deaths to the relevant police station in line with procedures and also sent the bodies to Sittwe Township Hospital for post-mortem examinations.

However, relatives of the victims said they were not allowed to see the victims’ bodies. The Myanmar military has opened cases against the 24 other villagers from Lekka under the Counterterrorism Law. The villagers are still awaiting trial.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.

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