Gov’t Says 12 Civilians Killed in Fighting Between Military, AA Since Jan

By Nyein Nyein 29 March 2019

YANGON—Twelve civilians have been killed in fighting between government troops and the Arakan Army (AA) in Rakhine State in the past three months, according to a Myanmar government spokesperson.

President’s Office spokesman U Zaw Htay said that as of Thursday, there had been 103 clashes between the Myanmar military (or Tatmadaw) and the AA since January.

The Arakanese rebels, who are seeking greater autonomy in western Myanmar, have been warring with the central government since 2015. Since the group’s attacks on police outposts in northern Rakhine on Jan. 4, the fighting between the two armies has escalated, resulting in an increase in casualties on both sides, including civilians.

During a media briefing on Friday, the spokesperson said that in addition to the civilian deaths, 58 AA soldiers and 27 policemen had been killed. He declined to provide a figure for casualties among government troops, saying those would be released by the Army.

He added that 26 police and 20 civilians had been wounded.

“The majority of those affected are local people,” he said.

But the civilian death toll continued to rise even as the spokesperson was speaking. Two local people in Mrauk-U were reportedly shot dead by the Army on Friday morning. Since mid-March, the Army has faced accusations of opening fire on civilians in the ancient town, but the Army claims that during the incidents it was responding to AA troops who had mingled with local people.

Military spokesmen earlier this week reiterated their stance that the fighting was “unavoidable” in Rakhine State in February and March, as AA troops disguised as civilians were shooting at Tatmadaw units both in the field and at bases.

The spokesperson revealed on Friday that as of March 24, the total number of people displaced by the fighting in seven townships in northern Rakhine State had reached more than 17,300. Kyauktaw Township ranked first with more than 3,800 refugees, while Mrauk-U followed with over 3,500.

The presidential spokesman’s figures on the displaced matched UNOCHA data released on Thursday, with a total of 17,354.

However, the total number of civilian casualties is expected to be higher and may contradict the government data, according to the Arakan National Party.

The ANP formed a nine-member investigation commission to record civilian loses in five townships—Kyauktaw, Rathaetaung, Ponnakyun, Buthaetaung and Mrauk U—and would submit its findings to the Union government, said U Tun Aung Kyaw, the general secretary of the ANP.

The ANP investigation commission started their outreach to communities in Mrauk U on March 26. U Tun Aung Kyaw said that in Mrauk U Township alone it found that a total of 52 people were dead, injured or missing. The commission does not yet have precise figures on fatalities and injuries as data collected from villages was still in raw form.

Separately, three people were killed in Rathaetaung and at least four were injured, while Buthaetaung saw four people killed during those months, said Daw Khin Saw Wai, an ANP lawmaker who is also on the investigation team.

“They are fleeing their homes, not only from gunfights [between the AA and the military] but also from artillery shelling of their villages,” said the lawmaker.

Party spokesman U Tun Aung Kyaw, who is in Rathaetaung helping displaced people, said on Friday that the fighting was intense in the township, hindering its ability to collect data on losses. He estimated the number of displaced people in Rathaetaung at about 6,000 in some eight IDP camps.