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Injured Survivors in Rakhine Shooting Rejects Myanmar Army’s Account of Incident

A 48-year-old man who was injured in the shooting told RFA that the incident was sparked when a mentally disabled detainee started yelling loudly at 2 a.m. Thursday morning

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Myanmar military medics attend to a civilian wounded in an shooting this week in Rakhine state, May 3, 2019. RFA

Injured survivors from a shooting this week in western Myanmar’s turbulent Rakhine state on Friday rejected the Myanmar army’s account of the incident that killed six detained civilians and wounded eight others.

Four witnesses from Kyauk Tan village interviewed Friday by RFA’s Myanmar Service rejected the account presented a day earlier by Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun, a military spokesman, who said villagers attacked security forces who were interrogating them and tried to take their weapons and the troops fired as a last resort.

Government forces had been holding 275 civilians in a school compound Rathedaung township’s Kyauk Tan village since Tuesday to interrogate them about possible links to an alleged training camp of the Arakan Army (AA), an ethnic Rakhine group that is battling Myanmar forces for greater autonomy.

A 48-year-old man who was injured in the shooting told RFA that the incident was sparked when a mentally disabled detainee started yelling loudly at 2 a.m. Thursday morning.

“There was a mentally disabled man among the detainees. We asked the security forces to take care of him separately,” he told RFA. “They said, ‘He is not mentally disabled. He is fine. He is just pretending.’”

“The man started yelling ‘run, run, run’ in the middle of the night around 2 a.m.  The security forces didn’t shoot at him. Instead, they shot at the crowd of other people. So, many people sleeping at the time died,” the witness said.

A second witness who was present near the school supported the statement. “Some people tried to run at that time. But most people were lying on their chest. People who run away were not shot. But those who were sleeping got shot,” the witness said.

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A 48-year-old man who was injured in the shooting told RFA that the incident was sparked when a mentally disabled detainee started yelling loudly at 2 a.m. Thursday morning. Wikimedia

No food or bathing

Another injured patient said the shooting lasted around 20 minutes. A fourth injured witness said the military did not feed the 275 detainees or allow them to bathe.

“We were not allowed take a bath. They didn’t give any food the first two days. They only gave us a meal for dinner Tuesday. They said they would shoot and kill us if we tried to leave the school.” RFA has confirmed the identities of the witnesses but has withheld their names to protect them from possible reprisals by the military.

RFA asked Col. Win Zaw Oo, the commander of Western Military Command Division, on inconsistencies between the military’s announcements and the witnesses’ accounts.

“What we have announced so far is the truth. We said it yesterday. The crowd was aroused to a dangerous situation. We responded with necessary measures to control the situation,” he said. “They have their own accounts. But we have plenty of evidence to back up our accounts,” Win Zaw Oo said.

At a military news conference at the Military History Museum in the capital Naypyidaw, army spokesman Zaw Min Tun denied the allegation that the security forces withheld food and drinking water from detainees at the school.

“We have been interrogating 275 villagers in Kyauk Tan village. This morning, we have released 126 villagers who were found to have no connection with AA,” he told the news conference. He said the others deemed to be associated with the AA would be charged under the law, but did not elaborate.

“Some villagers were killed in the 2:00 a.m. incident,” added Zaw Min Tun. “We have returned the bodies of the deceased villagers to the families at 9:00 a.m. this morning,” he said, adding that family members of the dead villagers were given 300,000 kyats (about $200).

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RFA has confirmed the identities of the witnesses but has withheld their names to protect them from possible reprisals by the military. Wikimedia

Campaign to ‘instill fear’ in Rakhines

AA spokesman Khine Thukha repeated his rejection of the military’s account of the shooting. “We can give a very clear answer: All the villagers they detained in Kyauk Tan village are just local civilians. They have no connection with AA,” he told RFA.

“We think it is the military’s strategy to instill fear among the Rakhine population by terrorizing a previously peaceful Rakhine village with violent detention and interrogations. Besides, their detention of the civilians is unlawful,” said Khine Thukha.

“They give an excuse that the detained villagers tried to attack them, cheering and taking the guns. This is unacceptable excuse,” added the AA spokesman. Political analyst Maung Maung Soe said the government should form an independent commission to probe the case.

“In order to reveal the truth, the government should form an independent commission to investigate the case,” he said. “If such a committee is assigned to do investigations to find out the truth, I think we will have an account acceptable to all of us.”

Win Zaw Oo, however, said the military would investigate its own. “Whenever there is an incident, we, the military, always have investigations as regular procedure. If it is necessary, we are going to conduct our own investigations,” he told RFA. AA spokesman Khine Thukha said allowing media access to Rakhine would shed light on the dispute.

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“If the Burmese military genuinely believes that they are doing the right thing for Rakhine people, they should be giving full media access to Rakhine state. We welcome the media and guarantee the security of the reporters in AA’s controlled areas,” he said.

“If the government is confident in their actions, give open access to media. Then, people will know what they have done and what we have done.” The eight injured villagers were receiving medical treatments at Sittwe General Hospital in the Rakhine state capital, while the six slain detainees were buried at Kyauk Tan cemetery on Friday. (RFA)

Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Paul Eckert.

Next Story

Thousands Force to Flee their Homes in Face of Escalating Fight in Myanmar’s Rakhine State

It says it has received credible reports of the killing of civilians, burning of houses, arbitrary arrests, abductions and other forms of abuse

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FILE - Residents carry the body of an ethnic Rakhine woman for burial in Rathedaung township, after fresh fighting in Rakhine state between the Myanmar military and the Arakan Army, an ethnic Rakhine force, Feb. 21, 2019. VOA

The U.N. Human Rights Office says more than 20,000 civilians in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine State have been forced to flee their homes in recent weeks in the face of escalating fighting between the Myanmar military and the ethnic Rakhine Arakan Army.

The U.N. condemns what appear to be indiscriminate attacks against civilians by the military, as well as violence perpetrated by armed fighters in Rakhine state.

It says it has received credible reports of the killing of civilians, burning of houses, arbitrary arrests, abductions and other forms of abuse.

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FILE – A local resident holds up bullet casings in a village in Rathedaung township, Rakhine state, after fighting between the Myanmar military and the Arakan Army, an ethnic Rakhine force, Jan. 28, 2019. VOA

U.N. Human Rights spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani said that on April 3 two military helicopters fired on civilians tending cows and paddy fields. She said at least seven civilians were killed and 18 others injured in the incident.

“As the international community is taking steps towards accountability for crimes against civilians in previous years, the Myanmar military is again carrying out attacks against its own civilians – attacks which may constitute war crimes. The consequences of impunity will continue to be deadly,” she said.

Shamdasani said all victims in this week’s attack were Rohingya Muslims. But she noted civilians of various ethnicities have come under fire in Rakhine and neighboring Chin state.

She told VOA the Rakhine Arakan Army that is fighting the Myanmar military recruits mainly from among the ethnic Rakhine Buddhist community. She said the group and its issues are distinct from the Rohingya Muslim community.

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Myanmar villagers who fled their communities when government soldiers conducted door-to-door searches for members of an ethnic armed group take shelter in Aung Mingalar Monastery in Mrauk-U township, western Myanmar’s Rakhine state, March 20, 2019. RFA

“This is an armed group that was formed, I believe, almost a decade ago and they have got their own grievances about the lack of proper governance, consultation by the central government with these communities. They have economic grievances – all sorts of gripes with the government about injustice that they have been suffering through the years,” Shamdasani said.

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The U.N. spokeswoman said their complaints are quite different from those of the Rohingya Muslims in the same region, who are suffering from systematic discrimination.

The U.N. rights office is calling on the warring groups to immediately stop their hostilities, to ensure civilians are protected and to grant humanitarian access to all areas of northern Rakhine. (VOA)