The heavy security situation in Myanmar’s Maungdaw township is preventing nongovernmental organizations from delivering aid to residents more than a week after deadly attacks on border guard posts and ensuing violence that authorities have blamed on insurgents backed by a militant Islamic group.
In the Oct. 9 attack, assailants raided three border guard posts in Maungdaw and Rathedaung townships in western Myanmar’s Rakhine state, also known as Arakan state, killing nine officers and stealing dozens of weapons and thousands of rounds of ammunition.
The raids triggered further clashes as soldiers and police carried out searches of Muslim neighborhoods in Maungdaw where they were confronted by groups of men with guns, swords, and knives. So far, Security forces have killed 30 suspected militants and captured 29 others in the clashes. Five soldiers also have died.
NGOs are trying to reach the more than 2,000 people from 52 villages in Maungdaw township who remained in their villages during the border guard post attacks and subsequent clashes, and are running out of food because they cannot leave the heavily guarded area to buy supplies.
The NGOs Wanlark Rural Development Foundation and Wai Lu Kyaw Foundation have donated bags of rice for the villagers via the military because they cannot deliver them directly.
“We haven’t learned how many people have been living in these 52 villages because most villages are in a valley,” said Aung Kyaw Win, a member of Wanlark Rural Development Foundation. “There are no telephone connections and no roads for cars. But there could be between 2,000 and 3,000 people in these villages.”
Because of the lockdown, United Nations agencies have not been able to reach the area, and movement restrictions are preventing access to health clinics, Reuters reported, citing Pierre Peron, spokesman for the U.N.’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
Mya Aung, a Maungdaw resident and former Rakhine state chief minister, stressed that even though the government is providing security personnel to protect the villagers, they still need help to ensure their survival.
Thousands of ethnic Rakhine Buddhists are thought to have fled their homes in Maungdaw and gone to the edge of the township, neighboring Buthidaung and Rakhine’s capital Sittwe, fearing further fighting between security forces and Muslim insurgents. They have taken shelter in monasteries and schools.
Civil society organizations in Myanmar have urged authorities in Rakhine state to set up safe housing for the Rakhine residents displaced by the hostilities.
Soldiers and police inundated the northern part of the state last week to track down hundreds of people involved in planning and carrying out the attacks, and believed to be Muslim Rohingya who received financial support and training from Islamists abroad.
The government and the country’s majority Buddhist population refers to the stateless Rohingya as “Bengalis” and claims they are illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh.
The Rohingya have been denied Myanmar citizenship and voting rights, have no access to health care or education, and have restricted freedom of movement.
Communal violence with Rakhine Buddhists four years ago left 200 people dead—mostly Rohingya—and displaced about 140,000 Muslims who were forced to live in internally displaced persons (IDP) camps. About 120,000 Rohingya remain in the camps today.
Interrogations of captured attackers indicated that last week’s raids were carried out by Aqa Mul Mujahidin, an Islamic organization active in Muslim-majority Maungdaw that has links to Islamic extremists in Pakistan and elsewhere.
Aqa Mul Mujahidin has links to the Rohingya Solidarity Organization (RSO), a small militant group active in the 1980s and the 1990s until the Myanmar government launched a counteroffensive to expel its insurgents from the border area with Bangladesh. The RSO was believed to be defunct.
Britain, the country’s former colonial power, had built more than 60 villages in Maungdaw, 40 of which the Aqa Mul Mujahidin Muslims set fire to during the recent hostilities, said Rakhine historian Ba Thein.
“People who fled from the fires can’t go back to their villages because they’re afraid of returning to their homes [where the Aqa Mul Mujahidin Muslims mostly lived],” he said. “Some of them are still living in Maungdaw.”
“If the IDPs [internally displaced persons] can’t go back to their villages, there will be fewer and fewer Rakhine people in Maungdaw and Buthidaung townships.”
ALP to meet with government reps
Meanwhile, representatives from the Arakan Liberation Party (ALP), a Rakhine state political party, will meet with state government officials on Wednesday to discuss security in the region in the aftermath of the violence.
The ALP’s armed wing, the Arakan Liberation Army, is one of the country’s several armed ethnic groups that signed a nationwide cease-fire a year ago with the previous government.
“We are going to meet to discuss our country’s security because we want our country to be safe,” said Mya Raza Lin, a member of the ALP’s central executive committee. “We have plans to help our country. We will know how to help it only after we meet with the [Rakhine state] government.”
As a result of the violence in northern Rakhine, the Myanmar government on Thursday fired Police Brigadier General Maung Khin, the border chief in Maungdaw township, and appointed a replacement for him, Reuters reported.
Reported by Kyaw Thu, Waiyan Moe Myint and Min Thein for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.