YANGON (Reuters) – Two women, one pregnant, were killed and seven other people were wounded when shells hit a Rohingya village in Myanmar’s Rakhine state on Saturday, Jan. 25.
The army rejected accusations from a local lawmaker, a villager and the Arakan Army (AA), a rebel group, that the Myanmar military was responsible for the shelling at Kin Taung, two days after the United Nations’ highest court ordered Myanmar to protect the Rohingya.
Maung Kyaw Zan, a member of the national parliament for Buthidaung township in northern Rakhine state, said shells fired from a nearby battalion hit Kin Taung village in the middle of the night.
“There was no fighting, they just shot artillery to a village without a battle,” he told Reuters by phone, adding it was the second time this year that civilians had been killed.
Soe Tun Oo, a Rohingya villager living a mile from the village, told Reuters by phone that two houses were destroyed.
A military statement confirmed the deaths, but blamed the AA, a Rakhine ethnic rebel group which has been fighting for greater autonomy in the state for more than a year. Two military spokesmen did not answer calls seeking comment.
“AA terrorists committed firing at Bengali villages with the use of heavy weapons and planting mines,” the statement said.
The Arakan Army said in a statement on its website that there was “ample evidence” that the army committed the killings without giving specific details. It accused Myanmar’s forces of “deliberate, false and misleading lies” aimed at discrediting the group.
Reuters was unable to independently confirm the details of the incident.
At a press conference on Feb. 3, the army objected to the story about the deaths that Reuters had published on Jan. 25, saying the account was biased. It referred specifically to the headline on the story, which blamed the army for the deaths, citing the member of parliament. It said it had filed a complaint to the Myanmar Press Council (MPC), which adjudicates disputes between authorities and news media.
“We will proceed according to the law,” army spokesman Zaw Min Tun told reporters in the capital Naypyidaw.
A Reuters spokesperson said: “We stand by our reporting, and have updated the story to fully reflect the Myanmar military’s position.”
The MPC made no immediate comment.
Zaw Min Tun said the army would not have carried out an attack just after the International Court of Justice had ordered Myanmar to protect the Rohingya, adding that: “We would not put a noose around our necks.”
The Hague-based International Court of Justice ordered Myanmar on Jan. 23 to protect the Rohingya against further atrocities and preserve evidence of alleged crimes, after west African nation the Gambia launched a lawsuit in November accusing the country of genocide.
More than 730,000 Rohingya Muslims were forced to flee northern Rakhine state in 2017 after a military crackdown that the U.N. has said was executed with genocidal intent.
More recently, the region was plunged into further chaos by fighting between the military and the AA, which recruits from the mostly Buddhist majority in the state. That conflict has displaced tens of thousands and killed dozens.
Of the several hundred thousand Rohingya still in Rakhine, many are confined to apartheid-like conditions, unable to travel freely or access healthcare and education. They are caught in the middle of the fighting, and travel restrictions mean they are less able to flee than Buddhist neighbors.
In early January, four Rohingya children died in a blast the military and rebels blamed on each other.
A spokesman for the ruling party told Reuters the country was already protecting Rohingya, but the civilian government had limited power over the military.
Civilian authorities govern jointly with the military in an awkward constitutional arrangement that reserves great powers for the commander-in-chief.
Reporting by Thu Thu Aung. Writing by Poppy McPherson; Editing by Matthew Tostevin