More than 1,000 Civilians Trapped by Conflict in Rakhine State

The Burma Army denies that villagers are not allowed to leave, as concerns grow about human rights abuses.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Sources in northern Rakhine State’s Minbya Township say that recent clashes in the area between the Burma Army and the Arakan Army have trapped at least a thousand local villagers.

“There are many people trapped in the area. Some stayed after the fighting started to take care of their property, and now they can’t get out. I think there are between 1,000 and 2,000 villagers who are trapped,” said Hla Thein Aung, the MP for Minbya Township.

“The army won’t allow civilians to leave their villages. They are suffering a lot,” he added.

According to local sources, the Burma Army has built a permanent military camp near the confluence of two streams that serve as the main means of transportation in the area, effectively preventing villagers from leaving the conflict zone.

“The army has built a military camp near the Hpontha and Thari streams and won’t allow villagers to cross them. There are no roads in the area, so this in the only way for them to get away. I heard that nearly 1,500 people are trapped in their villages,” Zaw Zaw Tun, the secretary of the Rakhine Ethnics Congress, a local civil society organization (CSO), told NMG.

According to Zaw Zaw Tun, the situation raises concerns about the safety of villagers who remain stranded in the area.

“We are worried about the security of the villagers who are still there. They could be arrested, tortured and killed. Phone connections are poor and there is no Internet access. There is no way of getting any information about the situation on the ground,” he said.

Meanwhile, clashes continue in the heavily militarized area, leaving villagers at risk of being caught in the crossfire.

“Clashes are happening almost daily in Minbya Township. The people of Hpontha, Seiktara, Ngan Tat, Taung Bokkay and Letkop are stranded in their villages and the army is deployed all around them. There is no way for them to escape the conflict,” said Thein Tun, who works with the Kyan Yeik Garuna Foundation, a CSO based in Minbya.

As the fighting intensifies and fears for the villagers grow, some are calling on the Burma Army to allow civilians to leave.

“We want the army to let these people leave the battle zone. They are suffering from human rights abuses. We are citizens of Burma. According to the constitution, we have the right to travel without restriction,” said MP Hla Thein Aung.

“Now our region is unstable. But even though there is no regional stability, the army has banned villagers from traveling. It’s an abuse of their human rights,” he added.

However, Col. Win Zaw Oo, the spokesperson for the Burma Army’s Western Regional Military Command, told media outlets that the army wasn’t preventing villagers from moving freely as it continues with its clearance operations in the area.

According to local CSOs, more than 3,000 people have fled the recent clashes.

There are eight camps for internally displaced persons in Minbya Township, housing more than 2,500 people since the latest fighting began. The rest have taken shelter with relatives or in other safe villages.