Civilians Injured, School Shelled in Army Response to Mrauk-U Ambush

By Moe Myint 14 June 2019

YANGON—At least three men and a child from northern Rakhine State’s Mrauk-U Township were wounded when a military unit opened fire along a village road Thursday afternoon, witnesses and members of a local rescue team say.

The rescue team in Mrauk-U identified the victims as U Tun San Hla, U Hla Tun Tha and Maung Kyaw Lin Naing, a 9-year-old boy, from Ywar Haung Taw village, and U Tun Kyaw from Sin Cha Seik quarter.

U Tun San Hla, shot in the abdomen, is in critical condition. The others were shot in their legs and arms.

Ywar Haung Taw village is about 2 kilometers east of Mrauk-U. The Thursday attack marks the second time the village has experienced shelling by the army. In late March a mortar explosion injured two there. The vast majority of village residents, concerned for their safety, had sought refuge in downtown monasteries, but returned weeks later when the situation had calmed down.

The village monastery’s abbot told The Irrawaddy that the military unit, traveling through the village to Mrauk-U’s downtown from neighboring Minbya Township’s Pan Myaung model village, began shooting at about 3:30 p.m. Thursday. He said the shooting lasted about an hour and a half, striking a religious hall in the monastery compound.

According to the abbot, Maung Kyaw Lin Naing was shot in the thigh while walking through the village and the other two men were while in their homes. He said the army unit had accused the villagers of planting landmines on a nearby highway.

The road the military unit opened fire on runs 550 meters (1,800 feet) through the village, from end to end.

“They started shooting from the entrance to the exit of the village,” the abbot said. “School windows were completely destroyed by bullets.”

Myanmar’s academic year began on June 2 and the village primary school was operating when the shooting ensued. The school employs between seven and 10 teachers and serves 30 students.

Ywar Haung Taw village is seen from above a screen grab of a satellite image. A military unit reportedly traveled from My Yar Taung Hill through the village, opening fire on civilians.

When firing broke out, the school superintendent sheltered students in a classroom.

Ko Moe, another village resident whose name has been changed to protect his safety, corroborated this account of soldiers indiscriminately firing at the school and, he added, at civilian homes.

He said there were empty bullet casings littered along the road and four unexploded mortar shells, including one at his compound. Additionally, three unexploded casings, a 60 mm mortar round, an Enarga anti-tank rifle-based grenade launcher and other munitions were found in the village. The spent bullet casings by bear a triangle mark and Log no. 5.56 mm, he said.

“We collected nearly a full bucket’s worth of bullet casings,” Ko Moe said.

He said the troops belonged to Light Infantry Division 22.

The monk said that as of Thursday the entire village had moved again to a safer location, save for a few, mostly elderly, villagers.

Locals say there was no armed engagement between the Arakan Army (AA) and the Myanmar military in the village immediately prior to the incident.

Colonel Win Zaw Oo of the Western Command told The Irrawaddy that troops opened fire when, shortly after three army tanks and a column of marching troops passed Ma Kyar Taung Hill, at about 3:30 p.m., they encountered landmine explosions targeting the marching soldiers.

He declined to comment whether the army trucks and foot soldiers were entering or leaving the village at the time.

Asked about the targeting of schools and civilian homes, Col. Win Zaw Oo said his soldiers fired only at locations where bullets came from. He accused AA fighters of using the monastery compound as cover while ambushing the military unit.

“Our soldiers responded to where bullets were coming from,” he said.

On Friday, in a separate incident, the AA announced on its website that they had clashed with the military near Buthidaung Township’s Sai Din River on Wednesday and Thursday, in which they claimed to have killed at least 25 soldiers and lost one of their own.

The AA said the shooting in Ywar Haung Taw village was carried out by Light Infantry Battalion (LIB) No. 81, which is under the command of Light Infantry Division (LID) No. 22 in Rakhine State.

“The AA will act on those who falsify clashes to intentionally target civilians in the region,” an AA’s website update read.