About 300 people have fled a village in a western Myanmar state to escape a rare case of local fighting between government troops and an armed ethnic group, as a United Nations agency moves in to provide aid to the refugees.
Residents of Pyingso village in Rakhine left their homes on Monday because of fighting between government soldiers and the Arakan Army (AA) and went to Kywaytaung village in the state’s Paletwa township close to the border of neighboring Chin state.
“There are more troops from the government army and the AA is still fighting against them,” said the chairman of the Khume Youth Organization in Paletwa township, who only gave his name as Usteven. His organization is helping the refugees, he said.
“People have fled because they are concerned for their security in their places,” he said. “They don’t have enough food because no organization has helped them yet.”
Although the AA is based in Rakhine state, it is believed that the army has only fought outside its own region in Myanmar’s war-torn north.
From the end of March to the beginning of April, the AA has had three clashes with government troops in Paletwa township. The refugees from those fights have been living in temporary tents.
There are about 500 refugees in Kyauktaw township who fled their homes on April 17-18 because of fighting between the AA and government army.
The government army has arrested locals suspected of having connections to the AA, including Zaw Win Maung, executive committee member of Kyauktaw township and spokesman of the Arakan National Party (ANP).
Help is on the way
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has sent items, including clothing, blankets and goods for children who are among the war refugees in the township. The aid is expected to arrive on Wednesday.
“We would like to appeal to all parties to allow for safe humanitarian access to deliver humanitarian assistance to all of those affected by the situation in Kyauktaw township,” said Yosi Burckhardt, chief of UNICEF’s field office in Rakhine state.
Myint Soe, director of the Relief and Resettlement Department in Rakhine state, said the state government was providing food to the refugees, while his department and other organizations were supplying clothing and other items.
“There are mobile clinics in this area [providing services] for their health,” he told RFA’s Myanmar Service. “Military forces are proving security, but I think they don’t need much more than they are being provided with now.”
Kywaytaung village now houses a total of about 500 people from 90 households who left their homes out of concern for their safety during the fighting, Myint Soe said.
“They are staying at monasteries and schools temporarily,” he said. “We will take them back to their homes because schools will be opening soon. We have planned to provide security for them.”
U.S. is concerned
The United States embassy in Yangon on Monday voiced concern about the unrest between the military and AA in light of the hundreds of people in Rakhine state who have been displaced by recent fighting in Kyauktaw township, Agence France-Presse reported. The embassy also urged an end to the hostilities.
The fighting in Rakhine could throw a wrench into Myanmar’s ambitions for a permanent nationwide peace deal to end decades of civil wars.
The government has said it wants a nationwide ceasefire in place before the national elections later this year.
In late March, government representatives and ethnic leaders agreed on a draft text of a peace agreement.
Although sporadic fighting has continued in Myanmar’s northern regions near the Chinese border, armed ethnic groups are planning to attend a May 1-3 summit to further discuss the draft peace deal.
Reported by Min Thein Aung and Kyaw Thu of RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.