A number of hostages seized by ethnic Rakhine rebels in a raid on a ferry packed with scores of Myanmar security forces have been killed, the insurgents and army said late Sunday, blaming each other for the deaths.
On Saturday rebels from the Arakan Army, who are fighting for greater autonomy for Rakhine Buddhists from the state, forced a ferry to the shore taking around 50 people hostage including 14 soldiers and 29 police officers.
The army said it deployed attack helicopters in pursuit of the rebels who tried to escape with the detainees loaded onto three boats.
Both sides confirmed some of the hostages were killed in a melee but did not give a number for the dead and traded blame for who was responsible.
The AA released a statement late Sunday saying military attack helicopters armed with machine guns and rockets hit the group as they were being “taken for questioning to a safe place in boats.”
“Some detainees we took for questioning were killed, two boats were completely destroyed.”
The army refuted the allegation saying the AA “killed them before the fighting took place” with security forces.
“They used police as human shields,” Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun told AFP. “We cannot say exactly how many were killed.”
The incident is likely to intensify army operations in a state scarred by ethnic and religious violence.
The AA has carried out ambushes, assassinations and bomb attacks, but has resorted to abductions in recent weeks.
A few weeks ago suspected rebels disguised as a sports team stormed a bus and abducted dozens of firefighters and civilians in Rakhine.
The military is accused of a heavy-handed response including attacks on civilian areas — allegations the army denies.
Tens of thousands have been displaced in the state due to the fighting.
Rakhine is the same area where the military drove out more than 740,000 Rohingya Muslims in a 2017 campaign UN investigators have called genocide.
Rights groups have accused soldiers of committing war crimes including extrajudicial killings in their fresh campaign against the Arakan Army.
But monitors have also singled out the rebels for alleged abuses.
Both sides have rebuffed accusations as violence has continued in an area largely sealed off to independent media.