Myanmar’s army said it shot dead six detainees in a village school Thursday while holding 275 men on suspicion of being Rakhine rebels, as fears over military impunity grow in the escalating fighting. Security forces are battling the Arakan Army (AA), a group pushing for more autonomy for the state’s ethnic Rakhine Buddhists. Thousands of troops have been re-deployed to the poor western state, which in 2017 was the scene of the mass expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims.
UN investigators say the violence against the Rohingya amounted to “genocide”. More than 30,000 people have been forced from their homes in clashes with the AA since January. On Tuesday, troops descended on Kyauk Tan village in Rathedaung township, separating men aged between 15 and 50, local and military sources confirmed.
Army spokesman Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun told AFP Thursday that 275 people “were being temporarily held in the village school for investigation”. Shots were fired in the school early Thursday morning when the detainees tried to “attack the security forces” who had no option but to shoot, Zaw Min Tun said. “Six were killed, eight were injured and four escaped,” he said, adding warning shots had been first been fired and the wounded had been sent to hospital.
The six bodies were placed “in front of the school in plain view,” villager Aye Maung told AFP by phone. “They (the remaining detainees) are being held hostage and we’re worried for their safety too,” he said. By Thursday evening, the village was still completely sealed off, said 57-year-old local resident Tun Aye Thein, adding there were “no AA members” in the village.
“We don’t know what they (the military) will do as they’ve surrounded us,” he said. Local MP Tin Maung Win tried to enter Wednesday but said he was turned away by the army, adding he was “worried” for local residents. The north of Rakhine state is in strict lockdown, making any independent verification difficult. The latest killings come after outrage triggered by the deaths in April of three ethnic Rakhine in military custody — and the secret cremation of their bodies.
The armed forces said two of the deaths were due to “heart failure” but did not give details of the third, cremating all three before their families could see them. Campaign group Fortify Rights said the deaths show the military continues to act with “total impunity”. Rakhine is one of Myanmar’s poorest regions and is deeply divided along ethnic and religious lines.