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Arakan Army mistakenly shoots boat passengers

A file photo of an Arakan Army unit from the group's Facebook page.

One civilian was shot dead and three injured yesterday when troops from the Arakan Army (AA) mistook boat passengers on the Kaladan River for Burmese soldiers.

Kyaw Khin, an aid worker in the Paletwa area, said, “The AA shot at a boat coming from Chin Let Wa. There were five persons on board. One university student was killed and three women sustained injuries. They were taken to Paletwa Hospital for treatment. The boat may have been mistaken for a Tatmadaw [Burmese armed forces] vessel because there was a convoy of Tatmadaw-owned vessels on the river.”

AA spokesman Khaing Thukha said the boat in question was traveling among a convoy of military vessels; however he stopped short of admitting the AA shot at it, saying he could not rule out the possibility that the passengers were hit in the crossfire by Burmese troops when both sides exchanged gunfire.

“The motorboat was among a small fleet of Tatmadaw vessels, which our special forces fired at,” he said. “It’s difficult to say whether the Burmese soldiers killed the civilians or if they were shot by our troops.”

Five days ago the AA issued a notice, warning civilians not to travel in the area. Although Paletwa is situated in southern Chin State, its population is mostly Arakanese Buddhists.

Citing a local youth organisation in Paletwa, BBC Burmese reported on Wednesday that in addition to the three civilians killed, 14 government troops lost their lives in the skirmish on the river.

Hostilities between the AA and the Tatmadaw were revived in late October after a prolonged period of detente. Locals in Paletwa are reportedly worried that fighting will intensify in their area.

“The [8 November] incident took place very close to Paletwa town,” said aid worker Kyaw Khin. “When deadly acts like this happen close to populated areas, people no longer feel safe.”

He added that fears are high that villages may have to be evacuated due to the conflict.

“Local people are very concerned. It is harvest season and they don’t want to flee, leaving their farmlands unattended,” he said.

“We feel very unsafe. We do not want any hatred among the different ethnic groups,” said local villager Kyaw Aung.

More than 60 families recently fled to Chin Let Wa village due to armed clashes.