Entire Villages Flee as Military Launches Air Strikes on AA

By Min Aung Khine 15 March 2019

SITTWE—Entire populations of villages in some parts of Rakhine State’s Ponnagyun Township fled from their homes as the Myanmar military, or Tatmadaw, carried out aerial bombings and artillery attacks while in combat with the Arakan Army (AA), according to local residents.

Clashes broke out in the area between the military and the AA on March 7 and have continued through Friday, locals said.

U Aung Kyaw Phyu, a local of Chaungtu Village which lies between Ponnagyun and Kyauktaw townships told The Irrawaddy of the helicopter attacks on Friday.

“We can’t live in our village anymore. [The Tatmadaw] came and attacked with helicopters near the village. And artillery shells fell around the village. There are unexploded shells. Now everyone has left the village,” he told The Irrawaddy as he fled to a nearby village called Ywet Nyo Tang.

“We have had sleepless nights since clashes [started] here,” said U Kyaw Thaung, the village administrator of Chaungtu.

“The clash was quite fierce on March 13. [The Tatmadaw] attacked with helicopters, and we saw jet bombing the whole night and they fired mortars and shells passed over our villages. Some shells fell near our village and the entire village has had to flee,” he said.

There are over 260 households, a population of over 1,000 people, in Chaungtu.

Villagers from Kan Sauk and Pan Pe Chang villages have also fled their homes after military Battalion 539, based in the village of Kan Sauk, supported the attacks in Ponnagyun Township.

According to Ko Zaw Zaw Htun, secretary of the Rakhine Ethnic Congress (REC), there are over 13,000 displaced persons in Rakhine State as of Thursday.

“There are many difficulties. Some are taking shelter with their relatives. There are not yet donors for the newly-opened camps. There are still no shelters in those camps,” he told The Irrawaddy.

There are now two new IDP (internally displaced persons) camps each in Mrauk-U and Kyauktaw townships and one in Ponnagyun Township.

The AA said in a statement on Thursday that the military used two helicopters in battles against them along the mountain range to the west of Buddhaw Village in Ponnagyun Township, and that they carried out air strikes during the night. The AA seized some arms and ammunition from the military during the fighting, according to the statement.

On Thursday, AA information officer Khaing Thukha confirmed to The Irrawaddy that the AA has been clashing with the military in the area since March 7.

“The clash was the fiercest on March 13. The military suffered casualties including officers and other ranks. We also suffered some casualties,” he said.

“[The military] only bomb once or twice [per day] in the daytime in other regions. Bombing for the entire night is unprecedented,” he told The Irrawaddy.

According to the AA’s statement, in attacks which continued throughout Wednesday night until 10 a.m. the following day, a barrage of over 2,000 artillery shots and ten bombs were dropped throughout the night.

Neither Brig-Gen Zaw Min Tun of the Tatmadaw True News Information Team nor the Rakhine State Minister for Security and Border Affairs Col. Phone Tint responded to The Irrawaddy’s phone calls on Friday.

In Mrauk-U Township on Thursday, a military convoy was attacked with mines on the major road linking Yangon to Sittwe, between Bu Ywet Ma Nyo and Lettka villages. The convoy returned fire and two civilians were injured, according to locals.

Khaing Thukha said the AA is properly taking care of the 11 prisoners of war taken from the military side during the fighting on March 9. Seven of them are Mro ethnic civilians, who were forced to act as porters for military soldiers, he said.

The four others are from the Directorate of Signals under the command of Brig-Gen Maung Maung Myint in Naypyitaw and the Land Records Department, according to the AA statement.