March 1, 2020 / 10:52 AM / a month ago

Myanmar army clash with insurgents kills five Rohingya - lawmaker, residents

YANGON (Reuters) - At least five ethnic Rohingya were killed, including a child, and several injured after troops clashed with insurgents in Myanmar’s conflict-torn western state of Rakhine, a lawmaker and two residents said on Sunday.

Saturday’s fighting broke out after Arakan Army rebels attacked a military convoy passing the historic temple town of Mrauk U, the regional MP, Tun Thar Sein, and a spokesman for the armed group, Khine Thu Kha, said.

Two military spokesmen did not answer telephone calls from Reuters to seek comment, and the army did not immediately issue a statement on its website.

Khine Thu Kha, the Arakan Army spokesman, blamed government troops for the civilian casualties.

A government spokesman said he could not comment.

Reuters was unable to independently confirm the details of the attack in the remote area, where journalists are barred and internet access curtailed.

Myanmar army artillery shells hit the village of Bu Ta Lone, killing four people, the Arakan Army spokesman said in a message.

The MP, a health worker who treated the injured, and a villager said at least five Rohingya, members of a persecuted Muslim minority, had died. A 12-year-old boy was among them, the villager said.

Military spokesmen did not respond to phone calls from Reuters seeking additional details. A government spokesman sent a text message saying he was in a meeting.

There were conflicting accounts of the number of Rohingya injured, which ranged from six to 11, along with several members of the state’s Rakhine ethnic majority.

Rakhine is the state from which more than 730,000 Rohingya were forced to flee for neighbouring Bangladesh after a military crackdown in 2017 that the U.N. has said was executed with genocidal intent. Myanmar denies committing genocide.

Several hundred thousand Rohingya remain in Myanmar, many confined to camps and villages where they are caught in the middle of fresh fighting between the military and Arakan Army, which recruits from the mostly Buddhist majority in a drive for greater autonomy from the central government.

That conflict has displaced tens of thousands and killed dozens.

Tun Thar Sein, the Mrauk U MP, said troops responded with gunfire and shelling in two villages on Saturday after rebels attacked their convoy.

“In response to that, the military started firing at suspicious locations,” he said.

A local health worker, who asked not to be named for fear of retribution, said three of the Rakhine ethnic majority were also injured and one woman had died of cardiac arrest.

TRAPPED BY FIGHTING

Journalists are blocked from travelling to most of central and northern Rakhine, now in the eighth month of a mobile internet shutdown the government justifies on grounds of security.

Many of the several hundred thousand Rohingya still in Rakhine are confined to apartheid-like conditions, unable to travel freely or access healthcare and education.

“Five Muslims died as their bodies were found,” a Rohingya villager from the area told Reuters on Sunday, asking not to be named for fear of retribution. “Their funeral was held today.”

He said the bodies had bullet wounds.

“We can’t go out and we can’t go anywhere,” he added. “We are just staying safe in our village. If this keeps happening, I feel like there is no hope.”

Saturday’s attack was one of several to kill Rohingya this year.

In early January, four Rohingya children died in a blast the military and rebels blamed on each other.

Weeks later, two women were killed after shells hit a village in Buthidaung township, two days after the world court ordered Myanmar to protect the minority.

At the time, the military blamed the Arakan Army for those deaths, saying it would not have carried out an attack just after a world court verdict in a genocide lawsuit brought by Gambia in November against Myanmar.

In January, the International Court of Justice at the Hague had ordered Myanmar to protect the Rohingya against further atrocities and preserve evidence of alleged crimes.

Reporting by Yangon bureau

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