The International Committee of the Red Cross said on Wednesday a boat carrying its aid in Myanmar’s restive Rakhine State had come under attack, in an incident in which the army said it was returning fire from insurgents.
Local sources said one person was killed and two injured onboard the boat. Neither the ICRC nor the army gave figures for casualties.
Rakhine state has been roiled for more than a year by conflict between government troops and insurgents from the Arakan Army fighting for greater autonomy for the region. The fighting is separate from the violence that has led to the flight of hundreds of thousands of Muslim Rohingya people, also from Rakhine state.
ICRC’s head of delegation in Myanmar, Stephan Sakalian, said in a statement the commercial boat was transporting “humanitarian assistance in support of the civilian population affected by the armed conflict”. No Red Cross staff was aboard.
“ICRC’s main concern is now to ensure that the boat crewmembers reportedly injured during the incident receive timely medical assistance and support,” he said.
The Red Cross had suspended activities in the town of Rathedaung where the incident took place and trips out of the state capital Sittwe.
Myanmar’s military said in a statement insurgents from the Arakan Army (AA) aboard the vessel had attacked three navy boats and soldiers fired back, causing the boat to burst into flames.
The AA denied its troops were on board and accused the army of a “war crime against civilians.”
Zaw Zaw Tun, secretary of the Rakhine Ethnic Congress (REC), a local humanitarian aid group, said the boat had been struck by artillery: “ICRC rented that boat and one worker on the boat died. Two have been hospitalised.”
Tens of thousands of civilians have been displaced during the conflict and dozens killed in shelling and crossfire.
A driver for the World Health Organization was killed in April while transporting swabs from patients to be tested for coronavirus. Tensions are running high ahead of 8 November general election. Polls across much of Rakhine have been cancelled by Myanmar’s electoral body on account of the violence.