Residents Head Back to Myanmar’s Maungdaw as Fighting Subsides

myanmar-residents-flee-maungdaw-rakhine-oct12-2016.jpg Myanmar teachers and civil servants fleeing armed clashes in Maungdaw township crowd onto a river jetty in Sittwe, western Myanmar's Rakhine state, Oct. 13, 2016.

Some of the people who fled Maungdaw township after deadly fighting broke out in the volatile northern part of the Rakhine state earlier this month are trickling back into Maungdaw as the area struggles to return to normal.

Some schools have reopened in Maungdaw, the administrative capital of Maungdaw township in the restive Rakhine state, but schools in rural villages remain closed over safety fears, Rakhine state government officials told RFA’s Myanmar Service.

“Female teachers are already in Maungdaw,” Chan Thar, the Rakhine state’s social welfare minister, told RFA. “When it is safe for them, we will send them to their villages.”

About 40 people from 14 households, who were staying in Rakhine state capital of Sittwe, have returned home. State government officials are providing them with emergency goods for living, while the civil society organization Sittwe Free Funeral Service is providing 50,000 kyats (U.S. $39) for each family.

“They want to go back to their homes as they know it is safe now in their places,” said Min Aung, the state’s city development minister.  “That’s why the state government plans to send them back to their homes.”

Army soldiers and police swept into the area after nine officers died in raids on three border patrol stations in Maungdaw and Rathedaung townships on Oct. 9.

The clashes between security forces and groups of armed men that followed, forced about 3,000 residents to flee to other parts of the Maungdaw township, the neighboring Buthidaung township and to the state capital of Sittwe.

So far, security forces have killed about 30 alleged insurgents and captured 29 others. They locked down the area as they hunted for roughly 400 other people involved in the attacks, whom they believe are local Muslims who received funding and training from Islamists abroad.

‘We don’t see how we will be able to live in peace and survive’

Oo Mya Sein, a resident of the Mawyawaddy Village in Maungdaw Township, told RFA that they hoped it was safe as they were anxious to get back to their farm.

“As we have cows and farms in our village, we decided to return home,” she said. “It is good if authorities deployed enough security police. If not, we will face difficulties.”

That uneasiness was reflected by Sein Aye Hlaing, a resident from Ywarthayar Village.

“We work in the forest gathering firewood and vegetables to survive,” she said. “If the situation goes on like this, we don’t see how we will be able to live in peace and survive.”

The northern part of Rakhine state where Maungdaw is located has been under military control since the attacks and ensuing hostilities that authorities have blamed on insurgents linked to Aqa Mul Mujahidin, an Islamic organization active in Rohingya Muslim-majority Maungdaw.

It is not the first time that the Rakhine state has experienced hostilities caused by ethnic tensions.

In 2012, communal violence between majority Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims left more than 200 people dead and displaced 140,000 Rohingya who were forced into IDP camps where about 120,000 remain today.

Many in Myanmar view the Rohingya as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and have persecuted them by denying them citizenship, restricting their movement, and preventing them from having access to education and health care.

Trafficked Muslims detained in Yangon

While Maungdaw residents are hoping to return to normal, authorities in Yangon region detained 17 Muslims from Rakhine State who paid human smugglers to take them to Malaysia.

Human traffickers brought them and they paid traffickers between 120,000 -150,000 kyats (U.S. $94-117) to go to Malaysia.

The detained people face charges under Myanmar criminal and immigration law, Police are still searching for the traffickers.

Reported for RFA's Myanmar Service by Min Thein Aung, Wai Mar Tun and Waiyan Moe Myint. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.

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