More Than 10,000 Villagers Flee After Military Announces Upcoming ‘Clearance Operation’

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

More than 10,000 people from Kyauktan village tract in Rathedaung Township, Rakhine State, have sought refuge in Rathedaung town after being informed of an order to leave their communities because of an upcoming Burma Army offensive.

There are more than 40 villages in Kyauktan village tract. The Rakhine State border affairs minister Col Min Than reportedly informed village headmen through the township General Administration Department (GAD) officer on June 24 that residents would need to leave the area because of a “clearance operation” that would take place there.

The UN and diplomatic missions from the US, UK, Canada and Australia issued a statement on June 28 expressing concern for villagers’ safety amid the order.

One day later, Col Min Than told news outlet The Irrawaddy that it was “not necessary” for villagers to leave and that the township GAD officer had “misunderstood” the situation.

Yet local civil society organizations (CSOs) say the villagers began fleeing to the town on June 25 and continue to do so. They are now struggling to find food and shelter and are afraid to return to their homes after being warned of the upcoming military offensive. They are joining some 30,000 IDPs already in camps in the town.

“They could not bring anything with them when they were fleeing,” local CSO worker Bakker told NMG “We have a problem with shelter. The IDP [internally displaced persons] camps were already full of displaced people. When newcomers arrived at the camps, it was too crowded. From a health perspective, we are worried.”

Khin Saw Wai, a parliamentarian for Rathedaung Township, said that even if the IDPs are given rice rations, they have no pots to cook it in. Those trying to help them have now turned to their neighbors for support, since government aid has not been forthcoming.

“We have requested a package of cooked rice from each house in the ward,” Khin Saw Wai said. “Then we distributed these packages of cooked rice to IDPs. I am so worried about them because they live in my constituency.”

Locals are asserting that their reasons for leaving home are different than the IDPs already in camps.

“Actually, we are not IDPs. We are fleeing to avoid the Burma Army. Some people have fled from clashes, but not us—we are not fleeing from clashes. We are fleeing because of the army’s order that it will carry out a clearance operation,” an individual seeking refuge in Rathedaung told NMG. “We cannot stay in our village. We didn’t have food or shelter when we arrived in town. There are many children and elderly people. Where we should go and stay?”

Elderly people remain trapped in their villages in Kyauktan village tract, locals have said. They have asked that the government assist these people.

“Civilians don’t have any weapons. They are trapped in the middle of clashes,” Khin Saw Wai said.

In the military’s order, the Burma Army stated that it had received information that Arakan Army troops had been deployed in the village tract and warned villagers against accommodating them. In response, the Burma Army said that it would launch a “clearance operation” in the area.

On June 26, Aung Myint Thein, a Rathedaung Township GAD officer, told Myanmar Now news agency that they are prepared to help villagers who have fled their homes due to the army order.