Myanmar soldiers detained nearly 40 villagers on Sunday, but later released most of them, about a week after government forces hit their community with artillery shells amid the larger armed conflict with rebel Arakan Army troops in war-torn Rakhine state, a local lawmaker and a resident said.
Government forces killed seven young men and one woman and injured more than a dozen others, including two children, during the Apr. 13 assault on Kyauk Seik village in Ponnagyun township. The shelling forced many other residents to flee.
Six days later, soldiers detained 39 male residents between the ages of 18 and 55, including a village administrator, to determine if they had ties to the AA, but in the evening released 33 of them, Oo Tun Maung, a lawmaker from Ponnagyun township told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
“I assume they were taken to Battalion No. 55, but I can’t say for sure,” he said prior to the release of some of the men. “I am waiting for details about the situation and will do what I can after I know where they were taken to.”
Late Sunday, Oo Tun Maung told RFA that 33 of the detainees had been released.
A Kyauk Seik resident who declined to be identified out of safety concerns said that he saw Myanmar forces take away fellow villagers.
“A government army unit came into the village and asked all the men to gather at the village head’s house,” he said. “After that, they took away the village head and 38 men.”
Myanmar military spokesman Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun said soldiers had detained the men because of suspected ties to the Arakan Army (AA), a mostly ethnic Rakhine force that has been fighting the government army for the past 15 months in a quest for greater autonomy in the western state.
“We took 38 men because they are suspected of having connections with the AA,” Zaw Min Tun said prior to the release of some of the villagers. “They are under investigation, and the army will take action accordingly based on the investigation results.”
AA spokesman Khine Thukha said that it was possible that the men were being detained because they informed the media about the government army’s Apr. 13 attack on their village.
“This kind of action by the government army is a war crime,” he added.
Following that assault, villagers said they found a shell cover with markings indicating that it came from the Myanmar Army, though the military later denied that it belonged to its forces.
In March, the Myanmar government declared the AA an illegal association and a terrorist organization.
The AA and two other ethnic armies declared a unilateral truce during the month of April while the country battles the spread of the contagious coronavirus, but the pact has not held up in Rakhine state.
Fighting between Myanmar and Arakan forces meanwhile continues in other Rakhine townships with the conflict displacing more than 160,000 civilians since early 2019, according to the Rakhine Ethnics Congress, a local relief group.
About 86 civilians died and more than 200 were injured amid fighting between Feb. 26 and April 20, according to a tally by RFA.
Paletwa gets rice
More than 10,000 residents and internally displaced persons (IDPs) affected by the conflict in remote Paletwa township of neighboring Chin state have received a week’s worth of food aid for the first time in six weeks, local authorities said.
About 830 bags of rice and some dried rations were sent by ferry and cargo truck from Samee to Paletwa town, which has been facing a severe food shortage since early March amid ongoing hostilities in the region.
Local authorities said there was enough rice to provide two cups to each of about 3,700 IDPs for three weeks or enough for only a week if the supply was distributed to all 7,000 residents of the town.
In the meantime, Paletwa authorities said they would continue to ration food supplies for the next three months.
The rice was distributed immediately to those living in IDP camps and to working-class residents of Paletwa as part of the government’s coronavirus relief efforts, said Soe Htet, Chin state’s minister of municipal affairs, electricity, and industry.
“We got a telegram yesterday telling us to distribute the rice to all residents, government employees, and IDPs for a week,” he told RFA, adding that another 1,500 bags of rice are waiting to be transported.
“If the situation is stable and the roads are accessible, we will transport these rice bags,” he added.
Though Paletwa is accessible by road from Samee after crossing the Kaladan River Bridge, the rice is now being transported by both road and river because of concerns of armed attacks along the way.
‘Not everything we need’
Myanmar’s Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement has secured about 6,000 bags of rice, or a three months’ supply, for Paletwa township residents and stored them at a facility in Rakhine’s capital Sittwe. Another 3,300 bags from donors are stored in the town of Samee.
The conflict between the AA and government military in the region has disrupted road transportation, preventing rice supplies from reaching Paletwa on a regular basis.
The first batch of 850 bags transported from Samee by 11 trucks in mid-March reached the town because they were guarded by military troops along the way.
Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun said soldiers will continue to ensure that the rest of the bags of rice reach Paletwa.
“We were only guarding the trucks, while local authorities, civil society organizations, and religious leaders received the rice bags,” he said.
“As far as I know, we will continue transporting these rice bags until local authorities have enough rice supplies for at least three months,” he added.
Chin state parliamentarian Salai Myo Htike, who represents the Paletwa township constituency, said authorities and residents alike were pleased about getting the latest food shipment.
“We are glad that the rice supplies finally arrived in Paletwa,” he said. “But this is not everything we need, so we hope the remaining transports go well.”
Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service, Translated by Khet Mar and Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.