Aung San Suu Kyi (centre left) and Thai PM Chan-O-Cha (centre right) walk together during the opening ceremony of a bridge in Myawaddy, Kayin State, on Tuesday. Agence France-Presse
YANGON: At least six people were wounded in gunfire as Myanmar soldiers hunted ethnic Rakhine insurgents in the western town of Mrauk U, residents said on Tuesday and a military convoy was ambushed.
Soldiers moved into the historic temple town on Monday night, marking an intensification of violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine State, where security forces have waged a campaign against a militant group called the Arakan Army.
While Rakhine State gained global attention after the army drove about 700,000 ethnic Rohingya Muslims across the border into Bangladesh in late 2017, the ethnic Rakhine are largely Buddhist like the majority of Myanmar’s people.
The military said in a statement there was “shooting back-and-forth” as insurgents attacked a military convoy approaching Mrauk U before retreating into houses.
Myo Oo Khaung Sayataw, a monk, said he had taken six people to hospital and that a seven-year-old girl with burn wounds was among the casualties.
“I went out to the wounded people, because no one dared to go out,” he said.
“I saw six military cars, they were shooting everywhere.”
Mrauk U, the former capital of an ancient kingdom, is popular with foreign travellers visiting its hundreds of centuries-old pagodas, which Myanmar wants classified as a World Heritage Site.
Two British tourists said they heard gunfire and explosions on Sunday.
Christopher Caddy, 32, who lives in Manchester, posted a video on Twitter showed him and his fiancee wandering through a temple. “If you’re wondering what that noise is outside that’s just the Myanmar army just firing rifles and exploding stuff,” Caddy said.
“We were in the temple for maybe five minutes when we first heard all the shots and explosions,” he told Reuters. “A few minutes later, when I noticed that the gunfire was still continuing I started filming.” Residents of Mrauk U said the clashes had made them frightened to leave home.
“I don’t dare go out, because of the gunfire,” said Shwe Tun Aung. “I closed my door and am still in the house until now. The situation is not good, civilians are in trouble.” Military spokesmen did not answer calls from Reuters seeking comment, but a statement posted on Senior General Min Aung Hlaing’s website portrayed the fighting as an ambush.