Arakan Army soldiers halted river traffic in Myanmar’s Chin state on Monday, seizing over 70 sacks of rice being taken upstream to villagers suffering from food shortages, a state official told RFA’s Myanmar Service on Tuesday.
An AA spokesperson meanwhile denied the accusation, saying that the rice taken from the boats was intended for Myanmar government troops and was therefore subject to confiscation.
The 77 bags of rice were taken by force from two passenger boats traveling past Kyee Lae village on the Kaladan River near Paletwa township, Chin state municipal minister Soe Htet told RFA.
“The AA stopped all passenger boats and motorized sampans on the Kaladan River, and two of these boats traveling upstream were carrying rice, with one boat carrying seven bags and the other boat carrying 70,” Soe Htet said.
“These bags of rice were being taken to local citizens living upstream, as there has been a scarcity of food in the region,” he said, adding that after seizing the rice, AA soldiers had forced the boats’ passengers to carry the bags away.
Also speaking to RFA, AA spokesperson Khaing Thukha said that AA troops had stopped the boats for security reasons based on information his forces had acquired, and that the confiscated rice belonged to Myanmar’s military, with which the AA is in active conflict.
“We have learned that that the Burmese military is using civilian vessels as cover to transport materials to support their offensives, and that they are especially using passenger boats to carry their food supplies,” Khaing Thukha said.
“If we found upon inspection that these commodities belonged to the Burmese military, we would have confiscated them,” he said.
Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun, a spokesperson for the Myanmar military, meanwhile denied that the seized bags of rice had belonged to government forces.
“We have our own system for transporting food supplies for our troops, and our guards always accompany the transports,” Zaw Min Tun said, adding that the Myanmar military never sends supplies on civilian boats without guards.
“These bags of rice belong to the residents of Paletwa,” he said.
AA troops departed Kyee Lae village on Tuesday and have now lifted the blockade on passing boats, sources said.
Two more die
Meanwhile, two of six Sapar Htar villagers injured on Sunday in Rakhine state when a mortar shell fell on a monastery compound where they were taking shelter from clashes died on Tuesday, adding to the total of those killed in the shelling, a local official said.
“One woman and one man succumbed to their injuries at Minbya Hospital today and were buried this afternoon. Four people died on the spot that day, and so now it is six dead altogether,” Sapar Htar village leader Myo Zin Aung said.
“We don’t know who fired the shell, but it came from the direction of Maung Bwe village,” he said, adding that from 700 to 800 people from Sapar Htar have now fled to villages nearby for safety.
“No one is here in the village now,” he said.
Speaking to RFA, AA spokesperson Khaing Thukha denied the shell had been fired by AA soldiers, saying that Myanmar army troops had taken positions near Maung Bwe village and were firing indiscriminately at nearby areas when the shell landed.
“And that’s why one of the shells hit the monastery,” he said.
Hostilities between the AA and Myanmar forces intensified in early January following attacks by Arakan fighters on police outposts in northern Rakhine state, prompting more than 100 battles between the two sides in the following months. Tuesday’s death raise the civilian death toll from the conflict to 54, with some 100 wounded.
The Arakan Army is an ethnic Rakhine armed organization that seeks greater autonomy in Rakhine, which borders Chin state.
Reported by Kyaw Zaw Win and Thant Zin Oo for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Richard Finney.