Rakhine Villager Shot at Checkpoint in Latest of Myanmar Civilian Killings

Myanmar Army soldiers gunned down a villager as he returned home from fishing in war-ravaged Rakhine state, the latest in a series of civilian killings, with troops saying the man failed to follow instructions at a security checkpoint, the victim’s father said Wednesday.

Tuesday’s shooting occurred a day after a local World Health Organization (WHO) employee was shot by gunmen as he and a Myanmar health department worker drove through the same township.The WHO worker later died of his wounds.

An employee of a pest control company also died after being shot in the head in a separate incident on Tuesday.

Kyaw Win Chey, who was in his early thirties, was returning home to May Lwan village in Minbya township after fishing in a river near his community when Myanmar soldiers shot him dead, his father, Kyaw Hla Oo, told RFA’s Myanmar Service.

“Yesterday, my son went to the Kangpaing Chaung area to go fishing,” he said. “He was coming home when we heard the gunshots. He must have met the soldiers as he entered the village [because] they shot him at the edge of the village. His mother witnessed it.”

Following the incident, Myanmar’s military commander-in-chief’s office issued a statement saying that security forces fired warning shots after Kyaw Win Chey failed to stop his motorbike and kept going through the checkpoint.

Soldiers who inspected Kyaw Win Chey’s body found a Chinese-made grenade and a knife in a toolbox on the motorbike, according to the statement.

But Kyaw Hla Oo said his son did not know how to ride motorbikes and that he unexpectedly encountered the troops while heading home on foot.

“He wasn’t running away,’ he said. “My son did not know how to ride a motorbike. He couldn’t even ride a bicycle. Besides, we could not afford to buy him a motorbike. We live from hand-to-mouth every day.”

A military captain offered 150,000 kyats (U.S. $104) to the bereaved family as compensation, saying soldiers had made a mistake by shooting Kyaw Win Chey, the father said.

“The officer said they had made a mistake,” he said. “He said what had been done was done, and then he asked us to bury him.”

“We had to accept the money because we were too afraid to say no,” he added.

‘Accidents happen’

The statement by the military commander-in-chief’s office said that Kyaw Hla Oo informed Myanmar forces that his son had worked in the gem mining industry for the past 13 years, had returned to May Lwan village six months ago, and could have been a conspirator of the rebel Arakan Army (AA).

The Myanmar Army and the AA have engaged in intense fighting in northern Rakhine state for nearly 16 months, as the insurgents seek greater autonomy for the state’s ethnic Rakhine population.

But Kyaw Hla Oo said he never made the statements to the Myanmar military about his son possibly being an AA collaborator.

“I never said that,” he said. “My son didn’t know anything about the AA. He was hard of hearing.”

Myanmar soldiers meanwhile inspected homes in the community and later helped bury the body of Kyaw Win Chey, said a community elder who requested anonymity out of fear for his safety.

“They asked us to hold a meeting at the village monastery, [and] the whole village had to attend,” he told RFA. “They also inspected the homes in the village.”

“They carried the deceased man’s body and helped us finish the burial,” he said. “During the meeting, they had said that these accidents happen during military conflicts.”

Myanmar military spokesman Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun said he had no comment on the incident, but noted the discrepancies between the accounts of the military commander-in-chief’s office and those of the victim’s family and village elders.

On Monday, WHO worker Pyae Sone Win Maung and local health department employee Aung Myo Oo were ambushed as they drove through Minbya township, transporting coronavirus test samples to Yangon for processing.  Pyae Sone Win later bled to death.

Myanmar and Arakan forces blamed each other for the deadly attack, which drew condemnation Wednesday from the U.S. State Department, which called on the government to investigate the incident and bring the perpetrators to justice.

“This egregious act undermines efforts to protect vulnerable populations in Burma and again highlights the urgent need for a cessation of fighting in Rakhine state,” said U.S. State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus in a statement about the killing.

“It also hinders global efforts to stop the spread of the virus,” she said.

Rice shortages

In Ann township, which lies to the south of Minbya, nearly 40 villages face shortages of rice — a staple food in Myanmar — due to government army blockades amid the larger armed conflict, residents said Wednesday.

Myanmar forces cited security reasons for preventing trucks from transporting food rations, medicine, and other commodities to certain areas of the township since March.

In Darlat Chaung village tract, which comprises 38 villages, a population of about 13,000 people has had to rely on supplies from Ann town and Kan Htaung Gyi town, villagers said.

“It has been nearly two months since they blocked the entrance to Darlat Chaung village,” said a resident who declined to give his name out of concern for his safety.

“Most of the villagers are farmers, so they have helped each other survive, but we are now running out of supplies and won’t survive in the long term,” he said. “We don’t have medicine even for minor illnesses. Things are going very badly.”

Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun told RFA that soldiers are blocking access to villages only when they receive tips that portions of the rice shipments will be directed to the AA.

Government soldiers stationed at Kazu Kaing Bridge near the entrance to the village tract began preventing the transport of food to the area in December 2019, but at the time allowed civilians to cross the bridge to get supplies. Later, they barred all residents from crossing.

The military told villagers they had to obtain written permission from Rakhine state’s security and border affairs minister to cross the bridge for emergencies, but residents responded that they do not have the means to acquire such documents.

The AA and two other ethnic armies declared a unilateral cease-fire during April so Myanmar could tackle the spread of the coronavirus, but the truce hasn’t held, and fighting has continued.

The Myanmar government planned to hold the fourth round of its nationwide peace conference in early May, but now has postponed the meeting as it continues to battle COVID-19, some ethnic leaders involved in the process said Wednesday.

The series of peace talks known as the 21st-Century Panglong Conference, or Union Peace Conference, brings together representatives from the government, the military, political parties, and ethnic armies to discuss prospects for ending decades of internal armed conflict in Myanmar.

Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung and Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.