'Dead livestock and water running out' in Myanmar village under army lockdown

2019-05-14 21:13
Forest rangers pumping water to fill a lake in the Shwe Settaw nature reserve in Magway region. (Ye Aung Thu, AFP)

Forest rangers pumping water to fill a lake in the Shwe Settaw nature reserve in Magway region. (Ye Aung Thu, AFP)

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Rakhine villagers trapped by a Myanmar army lockdown said on Tuesday they are fast running out of water as the operation against suspected ethnic rebels - which killed six and saw mass detentions - entered a third week.

Thousands of troops have been deployed across northern Rakhine to root out Arakan Army (AA) insurgents in violence which has displaced more than 30 000 people since December.

Myanmar's armed forces are using heavy artillery against the AA, who are fighting for more autonomy for the state's ethnic Rakhine Buddhists, but civilians say they have been caught up in the operations.

Complex ethnic and religious divisions cut across Rakhine state.

It was also the scene of the military's brutal crackdown against Rohingya Muslims in 2017, which forced some 740 000 over the border into Bangladesh in violence branded as "genocide" by UN investigators.

On April 30, security forces raided the ethnic Rakhine village of Kyauk Tan in Rathedaung township, taking 275 men for interrogation at a school.

They admitted shooting dead six detainees and wounding eight more two days later, claiming the men tried to attack them.

Eight men have been arrested and taken to state capital Sittwe, military spokesperson Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun said, adding that six of them had confessed to being AA members.

He said all the remaining detainees were released on Monday.

But residents told AFP by phone Tuesday the village remained sealed off - and food and water supplies were running dangerously low.

"Both humans and animals are thirsty as we still cannot go outside the village," said village elder Tun Thein, 56.

"Some animals have died from starvation and thirst," he said, adding soldiers were still preventing residents from moving freely.

Another woman, asking not to be named, said the villagers were forced to boil "muddy water" to drink.

Zaw Min Tun said as far as he knew the only people still facing constraints were the released detainees in case they were needed for "further investigation".

Access to the north of Rakhine state is heavily restricted, making independent verification difficult.

In the absence of oversight, fears are mounting of military impunity.

Zaw Naing was one of the final detainees released from the school on Monday.

He told AFP three of his family were among those shot dead during the ordeal and said residents were still "living in fear".

The AA has denied the villagers were rebels.

Three other ethnic Rakhine men died in military custody last month.

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