Injured people from Kyauk Tan village in Rathedaung township wait in a hospital in Rakhine State's capital Sittwe in western Myanmar on May 2 after the army opened fire on a group of ethnic Rakhine detainees at a school in the village. (AFP photo)
The U.N. has voiced concerns over the fate of ethnic Rakhine boys and men detained in the same school where six detainees were killed by the Myanmar military on May 2.
Rupert Colville, spokesperson for the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said there are possibly 40 to 50 ethnic Rakhine boys and men still detained in the school in Kyauk Tan village, Rathedaung township in restive Rakhine State.
According to information received by the U.N., the Tatmadaw (Myanmar’s army) surrounded the village and called on all males over 15 years of age to report to the local school on April 30.
Initially more than 275 people were detained for questioning over links to Arakan Army insurgents, Colville said in a statement May 10.
Several days after they were first detained the shooting deaths of six men occurred.
“The Office of the Commander-in-Chief in Myanmar reported on May 2 that the Tatmadaw had opened fire on 275 men and boys temporarily detained in a village school, killing six and wounding eight,” he said.
“According to the Tatmadaw, soldiers opened fire when the group tried to seize their guns, but other sources dispute this account.
“They say that the Tatmadaw opened fire indiscriminately after one of the detainees tried to escape. The army says it has launched an investigation into the incident.
“After the shooting, the bodies of the six men were reportedly laid out in full view of the village which, as of yesterday, remained surrounded by military and was said to be running out of food.”
Colville said that since May 2, most of the boys and men had been released in groups, apparently after being interrogated.
Many reported being mistreated while detained, including sleep deprivation and the denial of food.
Up to 50 remain at the school “without access to lawyers, doctors or any other form of protection.” They are “reliant on family members for food,” Colville said.
He added that the OHCHR is deeply concerned about what appears to be punishment of a large group of villagers for violent acts perpetrated by an armed group.
Colville said what occurred on May 2 is not an isolated incident. Three ethnic Rakhine men arrested following an Arakan Army attack in Mrauk-U on April 9 were shot dead while in detention.
The authorities have refuted allegations that they were shot, but the bodies were cremated shortly after their deaths and before their families were notified according to the OHCHR.
The Myanmar military said on May 5 that they have formed a team comprising of five military officers to probe the shooting deaths at the school.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) doubts the credibility of the military’s probe as it has a long history of failing to effectively investigate alleged abuses by its own forces, rarely holding military personnel accountable.
Brad Adams, Asia director at HRW said the Myanmar military concedes that they killed six villagers they were holding in Rakhine State, but “only a genuine independent investigation will get to the bottom of what happened.”
The Arakan Army is a largely Buddhist militia fighting for greater autonomy for ethnic Rakhine in the state, where there is also a conflict between government forces and Rohingya Muslims.
Fighting between the Myanmar military and Arakan Army has displaced over 33,000 people in Rakhine and Chin states since November 2018.