Myanmar government soldiers on Monday surrounded a Buddhist monastery in Rakhine state, demanding entry to search for members of ethnic armies they say are hiding among the thousands of displaced civilians sheltering there, sources say.
The soldiers, identified by insignia on their uniforms carrying the number 22, arrived at about 9:00 a.m. outside the Pauktawbyin monastery in Ponnagyun township, resident monk Ashin Thabarwa Nadi told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
“They asked for permission to inspect the IDP [internally displaced persons] camp inside the monastery, but I replied that only persons wearing civilian clothing would be allowed to come in to inspect,” the monk, who leads the monastery, said.
Already frightened by recent fighting in Rakhine, civilians living at the monastery would likely panic at the sight of armed soldiers entering the monastery grounds, Ashin Thabarwa Nadi said.
“These refugees ran away from their homes after government soldiers came into their villages, so the sight of uniformed soldiers among them will cause them to panic,” the monk said, adding that the approximately 200 troops requesting entry are now waiting outside the gate for reinforcements to arrive.
Ashin Thabarwa Nadi’s phone was later switched off, and attempts to contact him again at about 5:00 p.m. local time for updates on the situation at the camp were unsuccessful.
Waiting to enter
Also speaking to RFA, military spokesperson Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun confirmed that government troops had asked to be allowed to search the monastery compound and are waiting for permission to enter.
“These inspections are required,” Zaw Min Tun said. “Now, they are still waiting to go inside.”
“I can tell you that the military hasn’t forced an entry, though,” he said.
Frightened by the presence of government soldiers stationed in their villages or mobilizing nearby, more than 3,000 refugees have now taken shelter in Pauktawbyin camp, with the majority of them women, children, and the elderly coming from nine villages in the township, including Yahat Taung, Gan Gar, Poe Shwe Pyin, Kyat Sar Thalae, and Kha Naung Gyi, Zaw Min Tun said.
Since December 2018, more than 50 civilians have been killed, with over 100 injured and more than 40,000 displaced, because of clashes between government forces and the ethnic Arakan Army, which is fighting in several Rakhine townships for greater autonomy in the state.
Reported by Thet Su Aung for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Richard Finney.