Four Rohingya children killed in blast in Myanmar's Rakhine state

YANGON (Reuters) - Four Rohingya Muslim children were killed by a landmine explosion in Myanmar’s western Rakhine state on Tuesday which the military and ethnic insurgents blamed on each other.

An injured boy is carried after a landmine explosion in Rakhine state, Myanmar January 7, 2020. REUTERS/Stringer

Five other children and their teacher were also wounded when the group stepped on the landmine as they went to collect firewood in the village of Kyauk Yan, military spokesman Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun said by phone.

The wounded were being treated at local hospitals and three were in a serious condition, he said.

He said the landmine was laid by fighters from the Arakan Army, an insurgent group that recruits mostly from Rakhine’s Buddhist majority. A spokesman for the rebels, who want more autonomy for Rakhine state, blamed the blast on the military.

“One child’s head was crushed. We could only retrieve his body. We brought the bodies to their families and buried them later in the evening,” said a villager who asked not to be named for fear of retribution.

Last year, 143 children were killed or wounded in numerous civil wars being fought along Myanmar’s porous borders, the United Nations Children’s Fund said.

Tens of thousands of people have been displaced in Rakhine state since fighting broke out last December.

The region came to global attention in 2017 when more than 730,000 Rohingya fled to Bangladesh to escape an army crackdown which U.N investigators said was carried out with “genocidal intent”.

Several hundred thousand remain in Myanmar. They live under apartheid-like conditions, confined to camps and villages and denied access to education and healthcare.

Myanmar is encouraging refugees to return from Bangladesh camps but most have refused, citing persecution and conflict.

The ethnic Rakhine insurgency, believed to include thousands of rebels, poses a threat to the government of Aung San Suu Kyi.

Rebels have kidnapped villagers, administrators and local officials and ordered a tax on businesses. A lawmaker from Suu Kyi’s ruling party is still missing after being abducted in November, and another party official died after being kidnapped in December.

Editing by Poppy McPherson and Timothy Heritage