More than 190 homes in an abandoned village in northern Rakhine state were set ablaze Saturday, locals told Myanmar Now.
Villagers fled Let Kar village, in Mrauk-U township, for nearby monasteries and displaced persons camps more than a year ago, when fighting between the military and the Arakan Army (AA) intensified there.
Residents in Pi Pin Yin village, about a mile and a half from Let Kar, heard gunshots and an explosion around 2pm Saturday, then saw smoke rising from the village, a local monk who requested anonymity told Myanmar Now.
The monk is a native of Let Kar but is currently living in Pi Pin Yin. He said his relatives’ homes were lost in the fire.
The residents of nearby villages, including Pi Pin Yin and Bu Ywat Ma Nyo, told Myanmar Now they saw Tatmadaw troops entering the village around the time the fires began and the monk in Pi Pin Yin said he saw the same troops leaving around 5pm.
Nearby villagers also told the Sittwe-based Development Media Group they saw about 50 Tatmadaw soldiers enter the village just before the gunshots and fires began.
The military’s commander-in-chief said in a statement released on Sunday that Tatmadaw troops entered the village Saturday afternoon while patrolling the area and were attacked by the AA. When Tatmadaw troops fired back, it said, AA soldiers began setting the homes on fire before retreating into the mountains east of the village.
The statement said the AA had only set about 20 homes on fire.
Journalists have recently been charged under counter-terrorism laws for quoting members of the AA, which the government has deemed a terrorist organisation. Myanmar Now was therefore unable to contact the group for comment.
Mrauk-U township MP Tun Thar Sein confirmed to Myanmar Now that more than 190 homes had been destroyed but said nobody could see who actually set the fires.
Displaced villagers who returned to check on their homes the next day also told Myanmar Now 193 of the village’s 302 houses, plus a school, had been destroyed by the fires.
The remaining 109 homes were unaffected, they said.
Let Kar, seven miles north of Mrauk-U, is a relatively large and prosperous village, with many elegant homes.
Myanmar Now visited last November, noting damage the conflict had inflicted on homes, schools and a monastery there. The school’s floors were littered in Tatmadaw-branded rocket and bullet packaging, indicating the military had used the school as a base for fighting in the village.
In an interview with Myanmar Now last October, brigadier-general Zaw Tun Oo, spokesperson for the Tatmadaw’s western command, accused the village’s entire population of being associated with the AA.
“If the AA carried out ambushes in the jungles, we could single them out. But how can we do that if they mix in with local villages? How can we find Rakhine rebels within the Rakhine population?” he said.
Most of the villagers have been sheltering in the Tein Nyo camp or in the Pi Pin Yin monastery since April 2019.