The Myanmar military arrested 39 residents of Kyauk Seik Village in Rakhine State’s Ponnagyun Township on Sunday, less than a week after eight civilians were killed by artillery strikes on the village near the state capital, Sittwe, on April 13.
Military spokesman Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun told The Irrawaddy on Monday that the Tatmadaw (as the military is known) arrested 38 villagers and an administrator “on suspicion of affiliation with the AA [Arakan Army].”
“We will interrogate them and if we find any wrongdoing, we will take action in accordance with the laws,” he added.
A 9-year-old boy was among the eight people who were killed on April 13 when three artillery shells, reportedly fired by a Myanmar military battalion, struck the village.
The village is on the Yangon-Sittwe Highway, just a 40-minute drive from Sittwe.
According to both local residents and the Myanmar military spokesman, the main clash between Tatmadaw and AA troops occurred at Pauk Taw Pyin and Painnae Taw villages, some 3 miles (nearly 5 kilometers) from Kyauk Seik.
Brig-Gen Zaw Min Tun told The Irrawaddy on April 13 that there was no fighting near Kyauk Seik Village on that day. Rather, he said, a clash occurred in Pauk Taw Pyin Village two days earlier. He also denied that any villages were struck by artillery shells on April 13.
Citing reports from local villagers, U Khin Maung Latt, an Upper House lawmaker representing Ponnagyun Township, said a military unit arrived at Kyauk Seik Village at around 7 a.m. on Sunday morning and asked the village administrator to assemble all the residents.
“But as many villagers had fled their homes following the incidents, in which three artillery strikes killed eight people and injured 13 on April 13, only a few people remained in the village. There were 39 men in total, including the administrator. They were tied up and taken away,” he told The Irrawaddy.
U Ba Shwe, a Kyauk Seik villager whose sons Ko Ye Thet Naing, 22, and Ko Ye Htoo Naing, 18, were among the 39 detainees, told The Irrawaddy that the men were taken at 1 p.m. in the afternoon from administrator U Aye Tun’s home.
U Ba Shwe told The Irrawaddy on Monday that, “Ye Thet Naing is an employee of the [government’s] Cooperative Department, who returned home for the Thingyan holidays. My other son, Ye Htoo Naing, is a high school student. A colonel who took them told me that he would just hold them temporarily and they would be released later. But they are not guilty of anything. I want them to be released quickly.”
Lawmaker U Khin Maung Latt said the villagers could tell the artillery shells were fired by the Myanmar military’s Light Infantry Battalion No. 550 based in Ponnagyun, as the shelling caused vibrations and shook nearby communities.
He said, “It should not happen. This is mass killing and mass detention. These are crimes and the government needs to investigate, as it has a responsibility to protect the livelihoods of the people.”
Fighting between the military and the AA—which the government declared a terrorist group on March 23—in conflict-torn Rakhine State and adjacent Chin State has caused more than 160,000 people to flee their homes, according to the Rakhine Ethnic Congress. Hundreds of people have been killed, injured or detained by both armies (the Myanmar military and the AA) since November 2018.
In Myanmar, the government has been focusing its efforts on fighting the spread of the coronavirus since the country’s first case of COVID-19 was reported on March 23. As of Monday, 111 people had been infected with the virus, with five fatalities.
In contrast, in a little over a month from March 13 to April 17, by The Irrawaddy’s count 43 people died and nearly 60 were injured in Rakhine State’s Ponnagyun, Minbya, Ann and Kyauktaw townships and Chin State’s Paletwa Township in artillery and military air strikes.
Daw Ma Phyu, 66, from Nan Chaung Wa Village in Paletwa Township, which borders Rakhine State, was still in Mandalay Hospital receiving treatment on her left arm, which was broken when she was struck by shrapnel during a military air strike on April 8.
Seven Nan Chaung Wa villagers died and seven others, including Daw Ma Phyu, were injured on that day when fighting erupted near their village at 8 a.m., followed by air strikes, according to local residents.
“We are still waiting for her to have an operation,” said U Htaung Ko, a nephew of Daw Ma Phyu. Other people who sustained minor injuries are still at Paletwa Hospital, where all of the village’s other residents are now taking shelter.
In Paletwa, 3,657 people from nearby villages, including Nan Chaung Wa, are taking shelter. Relief supplies of rice only reached them on Sunday after being delayed for a few days for security reasons.
“We delivered 830 bags of rice, but it will only last about a week to 10 days,” said Mai Nang Wai, who raises funds for the Relief and Rehabilitation Committee for Chin IDPs (RRCCI).
Since the fighting intensified, some 9,000 villagers have become internally displaced persons in downtown Paletwa and nearby Samee Township, according to the RRCCI.
Samee, some 65 km from Paletwa, hosts some 2,900 IDPs, who fled their homes in Meiksa Wa, Wetma and Pyaing Tain villages in mid-March. A total of 21 villagers were killed and about two dozen were injured when Myanmar military fighter jets opened fire on those villages between March 13 and 15.
Ko Sanay, a Meiksa Wa villager who is currently taking shelter in Samee, said many of the 26 people who were injured in the March air strikes are recovering, but a few are still being treated in Mindat and Mandalay hospitals.
They are not able to return to Samee, as a lockdown and travel restrictions are in place due to COVID-19, he told The Irrawaddy on Monday.
“We still hear the sound of gunfire everyday. We want the fighting to stop as soon as possible, so that we can return home,” he added.
Htet Naing Zaw and Min Aung Khine contributed to this report.
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