Rakhine State Villagers Flee Airstrikes and Shelling

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Pang Myaung, a village in northern Rakhine State’s Minbya Township, came under heavy attack from Burma Army airstrikes and artillery fire on Tuesday, according to sources who witnessed the assault that sent local residents fleeing for safety.

“I saw artillery fire. It was one-sided. The army opened fire with heavy weapons. Then combat helicopters attacked at around 4pm. This went on for seven minutes,” said Hla Thein Aung, an MP for Minbya Township who was in the village when it came under attack from the Burma Army.

Airstrikes and other attacks were also reported elsewhere in the area.

“The army launched airstrikes on Taung Phyu Hill, two miles from Pang Myaung, yesterday [August 27]. Clashes also occurred near Shwe Kyin, a village six miles south of Pang Myaung,” said a local who spoke to NMG on condition of anonymity.

Residents of Shwe Kyin have fled the village, he added.

According to Hla Thein Aung, clashes have occurred around Pang Myaung for more than a week. Most local villagers have already fled, he said.

“Only about a third of Pang Myaung’s inhabitants are still there. Two-thirds have left the village already,” he told NMG.

“I’m worried about the people still in Pang Myaung. Soldiers are buying alcohol, and I’m afraid they’ll start shooting their guns indiscriminately after they start drinking,” said Hla Thein Aung.

According to local civil society groups, most villagers started fleeing after a shell landed on a house in Pang Myaung near Aung Mingalar Pagoda Hill on the morning of August 24. Three children were killed and three other villagers were seriously injured.

“There is an army unit stationed on Aung Mingalar Pagoda Hill with about 100 soldiers. This is where they’re firing their artillery from. Villagers began to flee after three children were killed by an artillery shell,” said Zaw Zaw Tun, the secretary of the Rakhine Ethnics Congress (REC).

According to the United League of Arakan, its armed wing, the Arakan Army (AA), clashed with Burma Army forces between the villages of Shou Chaung and Kyauk Nganwar in Myaebon Township at around 1:48pm on Tuesday and near Kazu Kai, a village in Ann Township, at around 3:30pm on the same day. Burma Army artillery fire was reported around Pang Myaung from around 6am and clashes occurred around 4:40pm on August 27.

Pang Myaung has more than 1,500 houses, most of them now empty. The local school, hospital and market have also been closed. Most of the displaced villagers are believed to be staying with relatives who live outside of the conflict zone.

“It’s a big village. More than a thousand villagers have moved to other places. Children and the elderly have been moved to Mrauk-U, Minbya, and Pauktaw townships or to other villages not affected by the war. Those who have stayed behind say they are afraid to sleep at night,” REC secretary Zaw Zaw Tun told NMG.

According to the REC, seven villages near Pang Myaung have also emptied due to the fighting.

“Currently, nearly 4,000 people from seven villages near Pang Myaung have already moved to safe places. That’s just an estimate. Our members in the area have also fled,” said Zaw Zaw Tun.

On August 18, the REC reported that 61,093 people have fled their homes since clashes between Burma Army and AA forces in Rakhine State began.