Clashes between armed assailants and Myanmar security forces in Rakhine state’s volatile Maungdaw township on Thursday forced about 180 villagers, teachers and civil servants to flee and seek refuge in neighboring Buthidaung township, residents said.
“They are worried for their safety because security guards are not always in their villages,” said Ashin Thagara, a Buddhist abbot in Buthidaung. “That’s why they have come to Buthidaung.”
Local civil society organizations in Buthidaung are proving food to the villagers and others, he said.
Army helicopters are evacuating teachers, civil servants, and residents from villages affected by the hostilities, said Khin Aung, an education administrator in Maungdaw township.
“Authorities are now using helicopters to take teachers to safe places,” he said. “Teachers who were staying in ethnic Rakhine villages have been taken to Buthidaung and [the state capital] Sittwe first. They will go to Sittwe, [and the towns of] Ponnagyun and Kyauktaw by boat.”
Maungdaw township has more than 180 schools with 90,000-plus students and more than 1,400 teachers, he said.
The clashes began soon after nine border officers and eight attackers died during raids on three Myanmar border guard posts early early Sunday in Maungdaw and Rathedaung townships, where many of the country’s stateless Rohingya Muslim minority group live. The attackers seized 51 weapons and more than 10,000 rounds of ammunition.
The raids have triggered subsequent violent hostilities as military soldiers and police hunt for the attackers and conduct searches of Muslim homes in Maungdaw, where they have been met by hundreds of men armed with guns, swords and knives, according to local media reports.
As of Thursday, the death toll stood at 40-48, according to local media reports and official sources.
On Wednesday, insurgents fired on a border guard station in the township’s Kyikanpyin village—the site of one of Sunday’s attacks.
In another incident the same day, the military blamed assailants for burning down 25 houses in Wapate village, according the government media.
Blame the Rohingya
Some believe that the Rohingya Muslims planned Sunday’s attacks in response to state government plans to demolish mosques and other religious buildings constructed without permission in Maungdaw and Buthidaung townships.
Earlier this week, authorities closed government-run schools in Maungtaw, extended local curfews, and put the Rohingya under lockdown.
Neighboring Bangladesh has sealed off all border entries in an effort to prevent attackers and their accomplices from fleeing Myanmar.
Myanmar State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi said on Wednesday that a group of ministers and other government officials sent to Rakhine to instill calm will return to the capital Naypyidaw on Saturday and report its findings.
The government will deal with the attacks in Rakhine, also known as Arakan state, fairly and according to the rule of law, she said.
Reported by Min Thein Aung and Kyaw Thu for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.