YANGON—At least three villagers were reportedly killed in armed clashes between the Myanmar Army and the Arakan Army (AA) near Hpon Nyo Leik village in northern Rakhine’s Buthidaung Township on Sunday, Muslim and Rakhine villagers said.
The village is home to nearly 8,000 Rohingya and several dozen Arakanese homes. The village with a mixed population of Rohingya and Arakanese was spared during the military’s clearance operations in 2017, which drove more than 700,000 Muslims into neighboring Bangladesh.
Hpon Nyo Leik resident Nrul Islam told The Irrawaddy on Monday afternoon that Muslim villagers found three bodies on Monday morning near the site of Sunday’s fighting. He said they were killed by gunfire. One of the victims was a 19-year-old Rohingya boy and the other two are believed to be Arakanese villagers from the Rakhine community.
Villagers wanted to perform funeral services for the victims, but Army (or Tatmadaw) troops claimed the three bodies on Monday afternoon. They later returned the Muslim boy’s body. According to Nrul Islam, the two dead Arakanese were clad in plain clothes and had a black backpack each. Neither firearms nor ammunition were found among their belongings.
An Arakanese resident of the same village who asked not to be identified due to fears for his safety confirmed that some civilians had been killed, and that Muslim villagers had found some bodies in the morning.
He said that about 15 Arakanese residents of various villages were detained by Army officers on Sunday, the same day as the fighting between the AA and the Tatmadaw broke out. Thirteen of these villagers were released from Buthidaung-based Border Police Headquarters No. 13 on Tuesday morning. The detainees included seven Arakanese civilians from Pyin Chaung village; a villager from Tha Yet Pyin and an administrator—identified as U Maung Than Hlaing—from the same village; two villagers from Yae Kaung Chaung and one from Oo Yin Thar village. Cases against the villager and administrative official from Tha Yet Pyin are being opened under the Unlawful Association Law’s Section 17 (a). Tha Yet Pyin is a neighboring village of Hpon Nyo Leik.
Video footage uploaded by Mayu Rashid on Facebook at 5:30 p.m. on Monday shows the dead body of a Rohingya man. A brief statement accompanying the post in Burmese says that one Rohingya man was shot dead by Army troops.
The video includes a narration in the Rohingya language. The Irrawaddy had the narration translated. It says that at least three Rohingya were believed to be missing following the clash. Both the translated narration and what can be gleaned from the footage suggest that the man killed was a resident of Hpon Nyo Leik village. According to the translator, the narrator adds that Rohingya villagers were asking Rohingya netizens to spread the video clip to show that Rohingya are being caught in the crossfire of two armed groups.
This video posted on Facebook on Monday evening shows the body of a dead Rohingya man from Hpon Nyo Leik village in northern Rakhine’s Buthidaung Township, according to the Rohingya-language narration. According to The Irrawaddy’s translation, the narrator also claims that at least another three Rohingya were believed to be missing following a clash between Tatmadaw and AA forces near the village.
Nrul Islam elaborated that as this month is paddy-harvesting season, many Rohingya villagers are working as casual labors in the region. But since armed fighting erupted between AA and government troops unexpectedly on Sunday, more than 30 villagers have gone missing. The Irrawaddy was not able to independently verify his claims.
Brigadier-General Zaw Min Tun of the Commander-in-Chief’s Office confirmed Sunday’s clash to The Irrawaddy on Monday morning, acknowledging that there were fatalities on both sides.
“We’ve got five AA deaths; at the same time, there are some on our side,” he said. He refused to give the exact number.
When The Irrawaddy called him on Monday and Tuesday afternoon to confirm the civilian deaths and arrests, he didn’t answer the phone.
The AA’s vice chief of staff, Major-General Nyo Tun Aung, denied to The Irrawaddy that anyone from his armed group was killed in the clash, and claimed that five Muslim villagers were reportedly killed by government troops. The Irrawaddy contacted some Muslim and Rakhine villagers from Hpon Nyo Leik and they said at least three were killed.
Early on Monday morning, armed skirmishes occurred in Rathedaung Township’s Kyein Pyin village, which is about 6 miles from downtown. A Rathedaung resident said that even in the town, some residents were digging reinforced trenches as shelters from incoming artillery shells, in case the armed conflict reached downtown.
“When I was washing my face in the morning, a number of shells exploded on the outskirts of town. At first I thought it might be thunder,” he said.
The recent fighting between the AA and government troops has prompted local people to flee their villages. The conflict area has broadened into five townships, and on Monday the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said the number of IDPs had risen to 5,000 on Monday.