Airstrikes and shelling have killed 70 civilians in Myanmar’s Rakhine state

Bombs and artillery shelling have targeted towns where junta troops have recently been driven away.

More than 70 civilians were killed in seven western Myanmar townships during the first three weeks of March as the junta sent airstrikes and artillery fire into communities where it recently lost control, local residents told Radio Free Asia.

The indiscriminate shelling in residential areas has injured more than 100 civilians in the seven townships captured by the rebel ethnic Arakan Army since November, according to residents.

“We are afraid of jet fighters flying,” a woman from Rakhine state’s Kyauktaw township told RFA. “At night, we cannot sleep well out of fear.” 

The Arakan Army, or AA, took control of Kyauktaw in January and drove junta troops out of Mrauk-U and Minbya townships in February. Residents there have faced daily airstrikes since early March, according to Mya Tun, the director of Arakan Human Rights Defenders and Promoters Association.   

“The bombardment on villages is an inhuman act,” he said. “Schools and houses have been destroyed. The military uses highly destructive cluster bombs and 500-pound bombs.”

A Myanmar junta airstrike demolished these buildings in Ramree township, Rakhine state, Feb. 21, 2024. (AA Info Desk)

Airstrikes and artillery shelling has also taken place in Myay Pon, Ponnagyun and Pauktaw townships in Rakhine and in Paletwa township in neighboring Chin state.

‘Grave civilian safety risks’

According to RFA’s figures, 73 civilians were killed and 103 were injured in airstrikes and artillery shelling in those townships between March 1 and March 18.  

In Myay Pon, junta airstrikes destroyed homes and schools, residents said. In Mrauk-U, aerial drone attacks on March 15 and March 17 in ethnic Rakhine neighborhoods left three dead and eight injured. 

“The military council carried out retaliatory airstrikes after they suffered the loss of their soldiers in Kyauktaw, Mrauk-U and Minbya townships,” a Mrauk-U resident told RFA on condition of anonymity for security reasons. “Another reason for these attacks is to cause trouble to Rakhine people.”

Rakhines, also known as Arakanese, are one of 135 officially recognized ethnic groups in Myanmar. 

Rakhine state has been the center of intense clashes since the AA ended a ceasefire in November that had been in place since the military seized power in a February 2021 coup d’etat. 

Fighting between the AA and junta troops is now taking place in 15 of Rakhine state’s 17 townships, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, or UNOCHA, said on Wednesday.

“Artillery fire and aerial bombardment, including in residential areas, are causing grave civilian safety risks,” it said in a statement.

March 14 statement from UNOCHA said that the resurgence of fighting in Rakhine state has left more than 300,000 people displaced since November.

RFA attempted to contact Hla Thein, the junta’s spokesman for Rakhine state, for a response to allegations that junta air strikes have targeted civilians, but he didn’t respond.

RFA News