Homes torched by regime forces in Sin Ein Gyi village. / CJ
Thousands of residents from Rakhine villages on the highway linking Yangon and Rakhine State capital Sittwe have fled regime shelling, raids and civilian killings launched following a landmine attack on a junta vehicle last week.
The regime attacks on villages came after a junta truck was hit by an Arakan Army (AA) landmine between Paday Thar and Sin Ein Gyi villages on Wednesday, villagers said. AA is a powerful Rakhine ethnic armed group battling regime troops for autonomy in the state.
Fifteen villages on the highway are affected, with some residents fleeing to nearby Ponnagyun Township and others taking refuge at relatives’ homes in Sittwe.
A Deparyone resident told The Irrawaddy on Monday that no one dared stay in his village after junta troops began firing artillery at villages on the highway.
“Only a few villagers have stayed to take care of the cattle. The highway is nearly deserted,” he said.
The junta has also blocked the highway since the landmine attack, resulting in hundreds of civilian vehicles including cargo trucks being stranded.
Residents said they no longer felt safe due to the continuous regime shelling and were bypassing the roadblock by using waterways to flee.
“They fire most of the time and we could be hit at any time. That’s why we are fleeing,” a woman villager said.
Regime forces also launched airstrikes on nearby villages following Wednesday’s landmine attack.
On Thursday junta ground forces raided Sin Ein Gyi village, where they torched homes and killed 11 villagers including a 92-year-old woman.
The AA on Friday vowed retaliation for the massacre.
The ethnic armed group is now deploying more troops to the Sittwe- Ponnagyun section of the highway, prompting fears that fighting in the area will soon escalate.