YANGON—Two village administrators confirmed that at least three burned bodies were discovered on Thursday, two days after a series of clashes between Myanmar Army troops and Arakan Army (AA) rebels near Yan Aung Pyin village in northern Rakhine State’s ancient city Mrauk-U.
U Kyaw Maung Yin, village administrator of Kyauktaw Township’s Kyar Net Kan village, told The Irrawaddy that four residents from his village went missing on Tuesday, the same day the AA fought with a military column for almost the whole day there.
He explained that eight villagers from his village traveled to Yan Aung Pyin to buy firewood in the Ran Chaung region in upper Yan Aung Myin. A group of six people traveled in two boats along Ran Chaung Creek, while other two locals traveled by motorbike on Tuesday.
The Irrawaddy spoke with two eyewitnesses who were questioned and released by Army soldiers on the outskirts of Yan Aung Myin village and safely arrived back in their village on Tuesday evening. Survivor Ma Kyi Kyi Htay recalled that she and three villagers were in the same boat, which was loaded with firewood from Ran Chaung region.
She explained that two other men, Ko Aye Thein and Myo Min Zaw, took boats from her village Kyar Net Kan and met in Tha Kyaw village, where they spoke for a while. The two men decided to leave Tha Kyaw village at 1:30 pm, while Ma Kyi Kyi Htay’s group decided to stop there for a few hours.
In the afternoon, Ma Kyi Kyi Htay’s boat left the village but they were stopped and told to dock by a military unit near Yan Aung Myin village. She said that a number of Army soldiers surrounded them and brought them to their commander. The villagers were surprised to see that the boat belonging to Ko Aye Thein and Myo Min Zaw was also docked there.
“They [the soldiers] asked us a number of questions like where we were going, and what kind of items we had on the boat,” said Ma Kyi Kyi Htay.
Another villager, U Than Maung, who was with Ma Kyi Kyi Htay on the same boat, recalled telling the soldiers that by about 3:30 pm they could hear no gunfire, so they decided to return to the village. They were being questioned by a commander near a tent about whether the villagers had seen any Arakan Army troops on the way when he saw a hand under a tarpaulin. He was unable to tell whether the person was alive or dead, or whether he was one of the two men from his village.
When they arrived back to the village they informed the relatives of Ko Aye Thein about what they had seen. Village administrator U Kyaw Maung Yin explained that the wives of Ko Aye Thein and family members of the other two men on the motorbike, Maung Win Sein and Maung Shwe Soe, reported their disappearance to him on Tuesday.
U Kyaw Maung Yin informed neighboring village administrators and the General Administrative Department (GAD) office in Kyauktaw Township of the disappearance of the villagers.
He was informed that some burned corpses were found on the outskirts of Yan Aung Pyin village on Wednesday night. He gathered the relatives and wives of the missing four villagers and went there to identify the badly burned bodies on Thursday. Similarly, another villager, U Tun Hla Sein from Yan Aung Pyin, reportedly disappeared on Tuesday.
U Tun Hla Sein’s wife Daw Ah Dar Sein had already complained that her husband had been held by the Army since Tuesday. She went alone to see her husband in a tent, where had been was tied up with a rope since the afternoon, and requested a high-ranking soldier release him.
On Wednesday, she went there alone but only saw the dead bodies of her husband alongside two other strangers, but was unable to retrieve the body, as the soldiers were still there. On Thursday, about 50 villagers from two villages conducted a search but only found bodies reduced to ashes, according to the village administrator U Maung Hla Sein.
He said the family members could not identify the bodies, as only a few remnants and three skulls remained at the scene. Daw Ah Dar Sein’s daughters and sons claimed that their father’s clothes and bag were abandoned near the scene. Daw Ah Dar Sein could not be reached for comment on Friday as she does not have a phone.
Kyar Net Kan villager U Than Maung said, “I don’t have anything to say about this. It is done; nothing can be changed.”
On Wednesday, the military announced it had killed nine AA insurgents and seized one RPG, but the AA said it lost only three fighters during the clashes. The AA also announced that it had killed at least 30 Army troops in a series of clashes in Mrauk-U Township.
Based on firsthand eyewitness accounts, indiscriminate shootings by Army troops in northern Rakhine State clearance operations have already killed two civilians this month.