Tragedy in Pauktaw: ‘My Mother Died in My Hands’ 

By Admin 04 Jan 2024

Homes burning in Pauktaw are pictured on November 25.
Homes burning in Pauktaw are pictured on November 25.

Written by Zwe Thit

“I shook her, but she did not regain consciousness. My mother died in my hands, bleeding. I saw her die,” said Maung Naing Soe Lin, a 17-year-old teenager from Pauktaw town.

His mother died in a battle in Pauktaw town following renewed fighting between the Myanmar military and the Arakan Army (AA) that began in November.

Maung Naing Soe Lin is the younger son of a six-member family. They lived in No. 1 Ward in Pauktaw town. But his father married another woman and left the family two years ago, forcing Maung Naing Soe Lin, then 15, to drop out of school and do whatever job was available to support the family.

He has an elder brother who lives far away, and two younger sisters who live with him and their mother. He said they were facing financial hardship, and he had dropped out of school to support his two sisters to continue their schooling.

His mother, Daw Sandar Oo, 37, made a living selling ice pops outside of schools in Pauktaw town. As her income was not enough for the family, Maung Naing Soe Lin often worked at construction sites, where he earned 9,000 kyats a day. But their incomes were barely enough as food prices soared in the post-coup period.

“As we survived on daily wages, both my mother and I needed to work daily to make ends meet. My mother sold ice pops outside schools. And I worked as a bricklayer in the town,” said Maung Naing Soe Lin.

Residents fleeing fighting in Pauktaw are pictured on November 16.

Renewed fighting between the Myanmar military and the Arakan Army came as another serious blow to the family.

The AA attacked border guard police outposts in Cheinkalein and Donepike villages on the Agnumaw-Maungdaw road on November 13. Military tensions were running high in Minbya Township after the AA ambushed a junta convoy on the Yangon-Sittwe road near Pe Thar Pyin and Hparpyo villages in Minbya Township.

On the fourth day of renewed hostilities in Arakan State, the battle reached Pauktaw, which had not experienced gunfire in previous fighting.

After the AA seized the central police station in Pauktaw town on November 16, large numbers of junta ground troops targeted the town, with support from warships and warplanes.

Maung Naing Soe Lin and his family were hiding in their home during the bombardment. As many residents fled with only the clothes on their backs, Maung Naing Soe Lin also decided to evacuate.

“People fled in droves. Families were separated as they fled. Warplanes strafed, and it was absolutely terrifying. As it was no longer safe to stay in the house, we fled to another place,” he said.

Maung Naing Soe Lin and his family made their way to Lawka Hteikpan Pagoda. Around 100 residents were hiding near the pagoda that day, he said.

Maung Naing Lin Soe Lin and his family came across their relatives as they looked for a place to hide. The two families, altogether more than 10 people, hid on a slope near the pagoda.

Maung Naing Soe Lin heard gunfire from downtown Pauktaw at about 3 p.m. Those hiding nearby concluded that the AA had entered downtown Pauktaw and was retaliating against Myanmar Navy vessels for their artillery and mortar barrage.

“Locals thought that AA fighters entered downtown Pauktaw because gunfire was heard in many residential areas. Dozens of local people hiding in the town including our family remained in Pauktaw without fleeing,” he explained.

The sounds of small arms fire from downtown Pauktaw gradually approached the Lawka Hteikpan Pagoda. After that, they heard a voice in saying, “Take position and open fire on people on sight,” in Burmese language, so that Maung Naing Soe Lin and the others hiding knew that junta troops had arrived.

Around 30 junta soldiers entered the Lawka Hteikpan Pagoda and opened fire, causing the people who were hiding to scatter, Maung Naing Soe Lin said.

As Maung Naing Soe Lin was hiding in a group with his mother and younger sister, the junta soldiers saw them and shot at them, hitting Daw Sandar Oo in the head. Some others people hiding together with them also sustained fatal gunshot wounds, he added.

“Junta soldiers saw us and opened fire on us. My mother bled to death in my arms. I saw my mother die. I saw four people were shot dead on the scene,” he recounted.

His younger sister, 15-year-old Ma May Khin Win, was also hit by a bullet near the head and injured. He left his mother’s body and two sisters with his uncle in their hiding place, and Maung Naing Soe Lin fled to safety.

“I was lucky to fall down the mountain from my hiding place. When I got to the bottom of the hill, I started running without looking back. Even while I was running, junta soldiers shot at me. I was lucky that the bullets did not hit me,” he said.

In the evening, Maung Naing Soe Lin received a phone call informing him that dozens of Pauktaw residents including his two younger sisters were detained by the junta soldiers.

From that time until midday on November 21, Maung Naing Soe Lin had no contact with his younger sisters.

“I wanted to meet my younger sister as soon as possible. No one is as unlucky as our family,” Maung Naing Soe Lin said, sobbing.

On the night of November 21, the AA released a video clip showing the rescue of some residents including Buddhist monks, elderly people, children and pregnant women held by the junta troops and used as human shields during the Pauktaw fighting.

Photo : AA Info Desk

After Maung Naing Soe Lin watched that video clip, he began to investigate whether his two sisters were among those rescued by the AA. Maung Naing Soe Lin received a phone call in the morning and contacted his younger sisters, who informed him that they were in a safe place with their uncles.

Maung Naing Soe Lin is now focused on reuniting with the family he still has.

“I am very worried about the safety of my younger sisters. I was very happy to see the video clip of the hostages being released. I am now in touch with my younger sisters. They haven’t reached here due to the junta’s blockading of water routes. I would like to express many thanks to the AA for the rescue of those held by the junta troops.”