Soldiers, Muslim Villagers Clash in Northern Arakan State

By Nyein Nyein & Khin Oo Tha 29 January 2013

At least one person was killed in northern Arakan State’s Maungdaw Township on Monday following a clash between Burmese soldiers and Muslim villagers, according to local sources.

The incident reportedly occurred after the soldiers were called in to deal with a confrontation between residents of a Muslim village called Don Khara Dan and government forestry officials who accused the villagers of illegally cutting wood near the village of Wai Tharli.

According to local sources, around 20 villagers from Don Khara Dan, which is located about 2 km from the town of Maungdaw, threatened three forestry officials with machetes when they told them to stop cutting wood.

After the soldiers arrived on the scene to protect the officials, the villagers dispersed but later returned in larger numbers and tried to overpower the soldiers, the sources said. In the ensuing melee, one villager was accidentally shot, the sources added.

“The Muslims tried to grab the guns from the soldiers. One of them was hit when a soldier fired a warning shot and died before they could get him to a hospital. The other Muslims took his body away,” said a Maungdaw resident.

Win Myaing, a spokesperson for the Arakan State government, told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday that the forestry officials had tried to stop the villagers from cutting down trees in a forest reserve.

“The Muslims started making problems for the Forestry Department staff, who were working on a road-building project in Wai Tharli village,” he said.

There was further unrest later in the day, when a group of Muslim villagers allegedly burned down a building at a golf course in Maungdaw, sources said.

Security has been tightened in Maungdaw since last week amid fears of renewed violence in the area, where clashes between Muslims and Buddhists broke out last June, setting off a wave of sectarian strife that left hundreds dead and tens of thousands homeless.

According to local sources, troops have recently been moved from Buthidaung Township to Maungdaw to deal with the increased tensions. The Burmese army currently has seven battalions stationed in Maungdaw to provide security, the sources said.

Last week, a vehicle owned by the army’s General Engineering Unit, which is working on a fence at the No. 48 border point between Burma and Bangladesh, was attacked by an unknown armed group. The engineers managed to escape, but the vehicle was set on fire.

In December, three army engineers were abducted by unknown gunmen. There has been no news of their whereabouts.