WASHINGTON - Myanmar’s military said it is investigating the recent deaths of two Muslim boys and the injury of another while the children allegedly were being used as human minesweepers when crossfire erupted between the military and the Arakan Army, an armed group seeking independence.
Army Major General Zaw Min Tun, a spokesperson for the Tatmadaw, as the Burmese army is called, said, “We are launching an investigation about that incident, in case, if there are any discrepancies or weaknesses in handling the said case.”
Zaw Min Tun said the Tatmadaw brought the bodies of two boys to their village, Pyin-shay, a Muslim area, and took the injured child to a military hospital for treatment. Myanmar is Buddhist majority.
The identities of the boys have not been released.
According to the U.N. Country Taskforce on Monitoring and Reporting on Grave Violations against Children in Myanmar, October 5, “two boys were killed in Buthidaung Township, Rakhine State, in crossfire between the Tatmadaw and the Arakan Army. This occurred after the children, as part of a group of 15 local farmers, were alleged to all have been forced to walk in front of a Tatmadaw unit to ensure the path toward a military camp was clear of landmines and to protect the soldiers from potential enemy fire.
“On the way, fighting broke out between the Tatmadaw and the Arakan Army, after which the two boys were found dead with gunshot wounds,” the taskforce stated.
“We call for a full, transparent, and expedited investigation of the incident and for anyone responsible for the use and for the killing of the children to be held accountable,” the CTFMR also stated.
A Pyin-shay village resident who did not want his name used told VOA’s Burmese service that the Tatmadaw had forced some 15 villagers to work as porters as the military advanced.
“AA did not shoot at them,” the villager said.
“They died in crossfire between the AA and military. The military did not release them. They ran for their lives. We brought back two bodies to the village and buried them,” he said.
Rakhine State, in Myanmar’s far west, borders Bangladesh and the Bay of Bengal. The ethnic Rakhines are waging a war of independence against the ethnic Bamar majority, and the fighting between their Arakan Army (AA) and Tatmadaw threatens the civilian population, according to humanitarian groups.
While Rakhine State was home to many of the 750,000 Muslim Rohingya who have fled to camps in Bangladesh, its population is a complex mix of religious and ethnic groups, and also is home to the ethnic Rakhine, or Arakanese, who are Buddhists.
Since mid-2019, the area where the boys died has been a hotspot for army abuses against children for non-combat purposes, according to the U.N.
The most recent incident is a reminder “that children are put at risk of being killed or injured whenever they are associated with armed forces and groups in any capacity or function, regardless of the duration of their association,” the U.N. agencies said.
The agencies also voiced “deep alarm” over an alarming increase in reports of killings and injuries of children in Myanmar.
More than 100 children were killed or maimed in conflict during the first three months of 2020, amounting to more than half of the total number in 2019, and significantly surpassing the number of child casualties in 2018, according to the U.N.
The most recent incident occurred within 12 months of the delisting of the Tatmadaw for underage recruitment in the U.N. Secretary-General’s Annual Report on Children and Armed Conflict (CAAC) of 2020, agencies noted.