Thousands Of Villagers Displaced By Fighting In Rakhine State

By Network Media Group
Friday, April 10, 2020

Thousands of new villagers have been forced from their homes by fighting between the Burma Army and Arakan Army (AA) in the last couple of months in Rakhine State. Many are taking shelter in overcrowded internally displaced persons (IDPs) camps increasing the risk of a major health crisis should a COVID-19 infection occur.

In the last two months, about 30,000 have been uprooted by the clashes in the war-torn state in western Burma, according to the Rakhine Ethics Congress (REC). An uptick of fighting has increased the number of displaced villagers, Zaw Zaw Tun, the secretary for REC, explained.

“Many have fled clashes between the Burma Army and AA troops in Kyawtaw and Paletwa area and along the Kalandan River. The Burma Army launched a regional clearance operation in Kyauktaw township driving out many villagers.”

In Kyauktaw township, there are 10,000 new villagers displaced by fighting, he said. Minbya, Rathaytaung and Ponnagyun townships have all seen an increase in IDPs, and new camps were built to accommodate new arrivals, Zaw Zaw Tun told NMG.

Civilians have faced all kinds of gross human rights abuses during fighting that’s been happening every day since early February, MP Oo Tun Win for Kyauktaw township said. “Some villages were torched. More than 20 people have died this year. Some civilians were killed when their homes were shelled,” he told NMG. The Burma Army arrested many villagers and beat them during interrogation. Some perished at the hands of their captors in the Army’s detention camp.

Land and water routes between Kyauktaw and Paletwa townships have been cut off from fighting, forcing 10,000 to seek refuge from the fighting in Kyauktaw town. They’re staying in public schools and religious buildings and receiving food and other support from locals of the town.

A local that didn’t want their name used told NMG most of the new IDPs are from Kyaukmaw, Palae Tawng, Tawng Pokkay and Seittaya. After the Burma Army shelled their villages with heavy weapons “they don’t dare to return home.”

Zaw Zaw Tun said after the AA attacked a Burma Army training centre it retaliated by launching airstrikes on the nearby villages. Fighting is happening all the time and spreading from the north to southern state making it’s really difficult to keep track of how many IDPs there are but he estimates there are more than 157,000.

With many villagers living closely together in overcrowded camps with little medical support, civil society organisations (CSOs) and health workers fear for the worst if there’s a novel coronavirus infection.

CSOs released an open statement asking for the government to protect villagers affected by conflict across Burma. “Consideration should be prioritized based on the values of human dignity, human rights, justice and democracy…from the conflict-ridden areas who faced internet closure and no access to timely information” and those “living under the squalid and precarious situation in IDP camps.”