GENEVA (Reuters) - A surge in fighting between the Myanmar military and insurgents has killed at least 32 civilians, mostly women and children, in the restive Rakhine and Chin states, the U.N. human rights office said on Friday, adding the military had destroyed homes and schools.
Myanmar’s military denies targeting civilians and a spokesman on Friday declined to respond to the allegations.
The Arakan Army, an insurgent group seeking greater autonomy for the region, has been battling government troops for more than a year.
“Myanmar’s military has been carrying out almost daily air strikes and shelling in populated areas resulting in at least 32 deaths and 71 injuries since 23 March, the majority women and children, and they have also been destroying and burning schools and homes,” U.N. human rights office spokesman Rupert Colville told a Geneva news briefing.
He later said that the 32 were civilians.
Colville said it was “very difficult to get precise information from Rakhine”, noting that there had been an internet blackout in the area since June 2019.
“So as to whether the reported casualties are a result of targeting or were caught in the crossfire between the Arakan Army and Myanmar government army, it’s not entirely clear,” he said.
Myanmar army spokesman Major General Tun Tun Nyi told Reuters: “We published news of what happened there. You can find out by reading them. I don’t think I have to give any comment on it.”
After local officials and a resident told Reuters shelling in Rakhine state’s Kyauk Seik village on Monday killed eight people, the army said such reports were fake.
Countries including the United States and Britain have called for an end to fighting in Rakhine amid the coronavirus pandemic. Myanmar has reported 85 cases of COVID-19 and four deaths.
The Arakan Army declared a month-long ceasefire for April along with two other ethnic armed groups, citing the pandemic. The military rejected the ceasefire, with a spokesman saying a previous truce declared by the government went unheeded by insurgents.
(This story corrects spokesman’s title to Major General, not Brigadier-General in paragraph 8)
Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; editing by Jon Boyle and Nick Macfie