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Indiscriminate shelling kills family in western Myanmar

Myanmar flag. (Unsplash)
April 01, 2024

This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.

Heavy artillery in Myanmar’s west killed seven people over the weekend, locals told Radio Free Asia.

After the ethnic rebel army captured a city only 24 kilometers (15 miles) from Rakhine state’s capital of Sittwe on Mar. 4, most residents fled as junta soldiers prepared for battle. 

While the Arakan Army has not entered Sittwe, a shell explosion on Saturday night is responsible for the deaths and five additional injuries. All victims were Rohingya living between Sittwe’s Kathe and Aung Min Ga Lar neighborhoods.

A resident who wished to remain anonymous for security reasons told RFA on Sunday that five people were killed instantly, while two more died at Sittwe Hospital.

“Five died on the spot at the beginning, and two died on Sunday morning,” he said. “The first five dead were a whole family.”

The dead were sent to Sittwe Hospital’s mortuary, locals said, adding that most of the injured were hit by shrapnel in the head and lower body.

The names and ages of victims could not be confirmed as telecommunication remains difficult to access in the area, but children and elderly women are among the casualties, residents said.

RFA contacted Rakhine state’s junta spokesperson Hla Thein for more information about the explosion, but he said that he didn’t know anything about the attack.

Military-controlled newspapers claimed on Monday that the Arakan Army fired into Sittwe’s Kathe neighborhood, killing the seven civilians. RFA contacted Arakan Army officials for comment on this accusation, but did not receive a reply by the time of publication.

A man who identified himself as part of Sittwe’s Rohingya community told RFA on Sunday that the restrictions and travel ban imposed by the junta have been particularly harsh for those in the ethnic group, historically targeted by the Myanmar military.

“Everyone is worried,” he said, asking not to be named for fear of persecution. “People don’t know when and at what time a heavy weapon will fall, so people live with fear and anxiety.”

Junta troops arrived in Sittwe’s Kathe neighborhood a few hours after the explosion, he said, adding that security has been tightened and almost no one dares to walk freely around the area. 

Despite allowing civilians to travel within Sittwe, those remaining in the capital have been told they are not allowed to leave, residents said.

Another Sittwe resident who also asked for anonymity told RFA he suspects the military junta’s repeated attacks on civilians are intentional.

“Heavy weapons have not just fallen once or twice,” he said. “I doubt that the heavy weapon firing had any purpose because they dropped shells in civilian neighborhoods, not a military target.”

Locals claimed ammunition was fired from Sittwe-based Police Battalion No. 12, but RFA has not been able to independently verify this statement.

On Feb. 29, soldiers firing explosives into a crowded market in Sittwe killed 12 civilians and injured 18 more in what appeared to be another round of indiscriminate civilian attacks. 

As of Feb. 18, renewed fighting in Rakhine between the military junta and Arakan Army has killed 111 civilians and injured 357 since it began on Nov. 13, 2023, according to a statement by the Arakan Army.