At least five people have been killed and more than a dozen others wounded after a military helicopter attacked a group of Rohingya Muslims gathering bamboo in Myanmar’s troubled Rakhine state.
Zaw Kir Ahmed, a community leader, told media outlets on Thursday that the aerial raid occurred in a valley in Buthidaung township near a village that was home to Rohingya Muslim families.
“A military airstrike killed five people, including one of our villagers, at around 4 pm yesterday,” said Ahmed from Kin Taung village. “People in the village don’t dare to go out and are frightened.”
Maung Kyaw Zan, a local lawmaker, said some of the wounded were brought to Buthidaung town but several died before they reached the hospital, adding five bodies had been recovered.
“When I talked to the wounded people they said the shooting came from the air, there were no clashes on the ground,” the lawmaker said.
Rashid Ahmed, a laborer, said his elder brother, uncle and nephew had been shot while they were working at Sai Din valley. “A helicopter attacked them while they were working there, cutting and collecting bamboo.”
Two other villagers also said a helicopter had attacked the group.
Stephan Sakalian, head of delegation in Myanmar at the International Committee of the Red Cross, confirmed that teams from the organization had visited Buthidaung Hospital where 13 people were being treated for wounds, some of them in “urgent need of surgery”.
A military spokesman declined to comment on the latest deadly incident, but Major-General Tun Tun Nyi, vice chairman of the Myanmar military's information committee, said the army would release “true news” about the alleged incident in time.
Myanmar’s western Rakhine state came to global attention in 2017, when the army drove thousands of ethnic Rohingya across the border into Bangladesh. Myanmar is facing growing international calls for accountability over the Rakhine massacre.
Last year, a UN fact-finding mission, said the campaign against the Rohingya was orchestrated with "genocidal intent." It urged charging the army chief and five other generals with the "gravest crimes under international law." The International Criminal Court (ICC) has already opened a preliminary examination into the violence.
The army said last month a military court in Myanmar would investigate the military's conduct during the crackdown. A previous military investigation had exonerated security forces of any crimes.
About 800,000 Rohingya Muslims are living in camps in Bangladesh after they were driven out of Rakhine during the deadly campaign in 2017, which the United Nations has described as ethnic cleansing.
Rakhine has been the scene of communal violence since 2012. Many Muslims have been killed while tens of thousands have been forced to flee as a result of attacks by Buddhists. The refugees largely live in camps in dire conditions.
The Rohingya have inhabited Rakhine for centuries, but most people in Buddhist-majority Myanmar see them as unwanted immigrants from Bangladesh and the state denies them citizenship.