The unheeded casualties of war

"I was shocked when I saw my daughter lying with injuries. I was nervous and wasn't able to think of anything so I piggybacked my daughter and ran to the jetty where we can get a motor boat.

15 Jun 2019

Rammar Kyaw Zaw | DMG

After hearing deafening sounds of explosions people were blown away.  Body parts were randomly strewn about, painting an ugly picture depicting the side effects of war. A cacophony of cries, shouts and screams filled the air, transmitting a message of abject horror from people who did nothing wrong. This is the scenario that war refugees have been encountering, even if they can find a safe haven in a monastery. Unfortunately, the bullets and mortar fire will eventually find them.

On June 3, villagers gathered at the monastery in Sa Par Htar village of Minbya Township.  They did not go there to perform their usual charity work, they sought shelter because they were worried that they would experience the repercussions of fighting that occurred between the Tatmadaw and the Arakan Army (AA) near their village that morning. 

Sometimes misfortune doesn’t hit a single person, on this particular morning a group of villagers experienced the same sad fate. The monastery they were sheltered in was struck by heavy artillery fire that ripped out the roof of the building. Four people were killed on the spot, two others died at a hospital and at least nine people received injuries

On the morning of June 3, fighting occurred between the Tatmadaw and the AA about one furlong from the south part of Sa Par Htar village. That is why villagers sought sanctuary at the monastery. In the evening, three men and a woman killed at the scene and others were injured by artillery fire that from the other side of the Lemyo River. 

While villagers were staying at the monastery, weapons were fired once every thirty minutes, during the first round of gunfire people at the monastery received injuries.

"Gunfire originated from the Myaung Bway village side and made thunderous sounds that reverberated around the area. Women wailed as people died or received injuries," said village administrator U Myo Kyaw Aung.

He said that villagers fled to other villages because of the barrage of gunfire and only about ten villagers remained in the village.

U Thar Tun Hla recalled what had happened that day while he was looking after his daughter who received injuries from gunfire. 

"I was shocked when I saw my daughter lying with injuries. I was nervous and wasn't able to think of anything so I piggybacked my daughter and ran to the jetty where we can get a motor boat. Weapons were being fired from a bed of tall reeds, northwest of the village. I heard the sound of gunfire and saw some people firing weapons," he said. 

Suddenly, the monastery in Sa Par Htar village was covered with a blanket of smoke and hysterical crying and screaming filled the air while villagers were frantically running in different directions. The explosions claimed the lives six Sa Par Htar villagers - (1) 55-year-old U Hla Maung (2) 48-year-old U Maung Maung Than (3) 52-year-old U Maung Phyu Tun (4) Daw La Pyae Kyi (5) 14-year-old Ma San San Win, and (6) 71-year-old U Maung Aye Nu, who died from serious back injuries at the hospital. 

As fighting goes on, the real victims are poor people who have no money to escape and find a peaceful quiet place to carry on with their lives. 

Ma U Than, who received injuries from explosions at the monastery is still being treated at  Sittwe Hospital, said what had happened on that day.            

"I feel sorry for the whole village. I can't still get that nightmare out of my mind. I feel sad for those who died after regurgitating blood from being shot, my aunts also spewed blood and died. A 12-year-old girl died before being sent to the hospital," she said sorrowfully. 

Daw Kyi Kyi's two daughters got serious injuries and are being treated at the Sittwe Hospital. 

"My two daughters got serious injuries. One daughter, Aye Aye Thein, has injuries on her arm and near her chest. My other daughter, Aye Nandar, has injuries on her thigh and back," said Daw Kyi Kyi. 

Daw Win Kyi, one of the people who received injuries, lost her left arm. 

In Arakan State, civilian casualties have occurred because of the fighting between the Tatmadaw and the AA and some people were killed or injured by landmines or gunfire. 

A woman from Myaung Bway village received serious injuries the day before the attack occurred in Sa Par Htar village. However, both sides will not admit their guilt. Bullets were that were being fired near Shwe Tamar village in Minbya Township reached Myaung Bway village in Mrauk-U township. Daw Hnin Win Yee, 41 years old, was injured by mortar fire while she was at home.

Villagers, who have faced unsafe situations, in Arakan State have no protection and have received no kind of security from the people's government. The state government and union government have remained reticent about civilian casualties from fighting while they stay at their homes or seek refuge in village monasteries. 

Civilian casualties are increasing day by day as the fighting has become more intense since the beginning of 2019. Children and elderly people are the most vulnerable casualties.

Buddaw village in Kyauktaw Township, and Letka, Auk Thar Kan, Myaung Bway, Yan Aung Pyin and Taung Oo villages in Mrauk-U Township including the pagodas in Mrauk-U town were affected by the fighting. Thamee Hla, Min Phoo and Kyauktan villages in Rathedaung Township also suffered from the fighting. 

Civilian casualties occurred in villages in Taw Pyar Chaung area of Ponnagyun Township, Pauk Taw Pyin and Ga Nan Mae villages including Si Taung village in Buthidaung Township. 

The state and union government have both ignored the mounting number of casualties and have turned a blind eye to their citizens who are being unlawfully slaughtered.

Similar situations occurred in Sa Par Htar village in Minbya Township before. Both sides need to be mindful of residential and religious buildings when they exchange gunfire. In case of harmful effects, responsible persons should help and support the sufferers. 

In the future if civilian casualties occur as a result of armed skirmishes, people need to be more sympathetic towards the innocent victims and offer support and solace instead of pretending that fatalities didn’t even exist like in prior times.