MRAUK-U, Rakhine State — At least six residents of northern Rakhine State’s Mrauk-U Township were wounded by gun fire and artillery Monday night that locals say were fired by Myanmar military soldiers without provocation.
The military has been fighting with the rebel Arakan Army (AA) in the north of the state since late last year.
The main hospital in Mrauk-U said it was treating six people from the Yaung Haung quarter injured in the latest incident. Staff said that among the wounded were a husband and wife, Maung Win Yee and Daw Ye May, injured by an exploding artillery shell.
The Mrauk-U Youth Association said local volunteers waited until the shooting and shelling ended to rescue the victims and take them to hospital for fear of being targeted themselves.
One resident, Min Thu Kha, said he saw soldiers firing from a military truck while he was passing a branch office of Kanbawza Bank in downtown Mrauk-U, near U Ottama Park.
“Bullets started flying from army trucks along the road. I could have died right there if I had not lied down on the ground.”
The bank building was also damaged by the shooting and shelling; the front door was blown off and the walls were pockmarked with bullet holes. A thatch house hit by the shelling burned to the ground.
Daw Nyunt Aye’s home was also hit. When she heard the shooting start, she shuttered her shop but did not have time to turn off the lights.
“When the army trucks drove slowly in front of my home, they shot bullets into my house, and an artillery shell exploded in my bedroom,” she said.
She and her children survived the ordeal uninjured by lying on the ground.
Ko Kyaw Naing, who runs a small shop near the bank, said the AA had not engaged the soldiers when the shooting started and that locals had been strolling the streets.
He said he saw about eight army trucks driving through town and heard someone yell, “Kill all these AA supporters.” They shot at the bank for about two minutes and hit his shop with a few rounds as well.
A spokesman for the military’s Western Command said the soldiers were attacked by AA fighters while returning to Mrauk-U in the evening. He said the AA shot from residential areas and that the soldiers returned fire.
“It was over after 8 p.m. Both sides used artillery. AA fighters are embed in the local population,” he said.
AA spokesman Khine Thukha denied that the group had any fighters imbedded in the local population and said it was not involved in any fighting in the area Monday night.
He accused the military of “shooting in a thuggish manner to scare people off. They are cowards.”
U Oo Hla Saw, a Lower House lawmaker and ethnic Arakanese, turned to his Facebook page to urge State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and military chief Sen. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing to restore order.
“Sister and brother! I do apologize. Please don’t be cruel to Mrauk-U. Kill me or kill us, but spare Mrauk-U,” he posted.
Locals gathered at the scene of the shooting early this morning but scattered at about 7:20 when the military fired more shells from the downtown neighborhood of Nan Yar Kon. Shops in the area quickly shut down and the streets were soon abandoned. A few domestic tourists also left for the state capital, Sittwe, in the morning.
Over the weekend, artillery shells landed in the downtown heritage zone of Mrauk-U. One shell landed between the Htukkanthein temple and Shitthaung pagoda, where vendors set up shop during the day. Another landed near Myede pagoda, which sits beside a local residence.