UPDATED at 9:57 A.M. EST on 2019-03-12
A deadly weekend assault by an ethnic armed group on a police outpost in western Myanmar’s violence-ridden Rakhine state left nine officers dead and two others injured, the country's Ministry of Information said Sunday, prompting area police to merge personnel at some small stations to increase security in critical areas.
The policemen were killed late Saturday by the Arakan Army (AA), a Buddhist Rakhine military fighting Myanmar forces for autonomy in Rakhine state, during an attack on their police post in Ponnakyun township’s Yoetayoke village, the ministry said on its website.
Colonel Kyi Lin, head of the Rakhine State Police Force, later confirmed to the online journal The Irrawaddy that nine policemen were killed by gunshot in an AA raid on the police station.
Colonel Win Zaw Oo of the Myanmar military’s Western Command told RFA’s Myanmar Service on Sunday that that the AA has targeted small police posts with an aim to humiliate police forces.
He also said that the transfer of security personnel would increase forces in more critical spots, the Myanmar Times reported.
AA spokesman Khine Thukha initially told RFA that the group’s central command did not order the attack on the police outpost in Yoetayoke village and that AA officials would investigate the incident.
The AA later acknowledged that its soldiers attacked the police post, though Khine Thukha declined further requests for comment, The Irrawaddy said.
Clashes between the AA and the Myanmar Army escalated late last year and into 2019, with a deadly attack by Arakan fighters on police outposts in northern Rakhine state in early January that left 13 officers dead and nine injured.
In response, the Myanmar government declared the AA a terrorist group and ordered thousands of soldiers into the region to “crush” the insurgents with heavy artillery.
The AA announced late Monday that its troops occupied a temporary tactical command base and had taken captive 11 prisoners of war during a clash with Myanmar Army troops near Buthidaung township on March 9, the online journal The Irrawaddy reported.
The AA also said that its forces have continued to engage in hostilities with Myanmar troops in the mountainous region in the west of Ponnakyun and in Buthidaung since March 7.
‘The situation is worrisome’
After Sunday’s attack, officers at four police outposts in Minbya, Rathedaung, and Buthidaung townships were mobilized and merged with police at other outposts, prompting concern among residents in areas from where the security personnel were withdrawn, village officials and a national lawmaker said.
Ten police officers at a police post in Pan Myaung village that provides security for at least six village tracts in Minbya township relocated to Minbya town on Monday morning, said village administrator Tin Aung Kyaw.
“The deputy police chief at the station summoned me and told me that their station had to move due to lack of security,” he told RFA’s Myanmar Service. “So, we are helpless with regards to security, and the situation is worrisome.”
The move has triggered safety fears among local residents, he added.
Policemen from a post in Zayti Taung village meanwhile joined another post in Nyaung Chaung village in Buithidaung township.
“I can’t say why they merged,” said Zayti Taung village administrator Kyaw Than. “They might have concerns. After what has happened over there, their superiors might wonder if something could happen here. I think that may be the reason for the move.”
Myanmar national police reported that some officers were still under attack, saying that the AA fired on 14 officers from Rathedaung’s Okpo village on Sunday evening while they were moving to the post in Nyaung Chaung village. One officer injured in the attack was carried away by the current in nearby Cardi Creek.
A police post with around 20 officers in Rathedaung’s Kutaung village has also relocated, according to Khin Saw Wai, a lawmaker from the Arakan National Party who represents the Rathedaung constituency in Myanmar’s lower house of parliament.
“A local resident just called this morning and said a police station in Kutaung village had been relocated,” she said. “It is holding [matriculation] examinations for 10th-grade students, and I was told that local villagers, including the village administrator, have to guard the test since no security is present.”
Two test centers in Mrauk-U and Rathedaung townships were moved to other locations last week during matriculation examinations due to concerns about fresh clashes between the AA and government troops.
RFA was unable to reach Myanmar Army spokesman Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun, Colonel Win Zaw Oo of the Western Command, and Rakhine State Police Chief Colonel Kyi Lin for comments on the border guard police post mergers.
‘Food rations have yet to arrive’
The fighting has now driven more than 12,000 civilians from their homes in Rakhine state, according to estimates by a leader of a displaced persons camp, a local monk, and a lawmaker on Monday.
Residents of 14 villages in Mrauk-U township, including Goat Kyun, Khamaung Seik, Maw Ywa, Lay Hnyin Taung, Byauk Chaung, Khu Hlaing, Cheik Chaung, and Sin Swe Kyo have now been displaced by the ongoing clashes, they said.
They are now living temporarily at internally displaced persons (IDP) camps in 14 locations, including Shwe Taung, Lat Kauk Zey, Phaya Paw, Wa The, Out Kathan, Zeydi Taung, and Sinbaw Kaing villages in the township.
Organizers involved in assisting the IDPs told RFA that there is very little government assistance for those who have fled to safety.
IDP camp leader Aye Maung said more than 100 people from 26 families are now taking refuge at the Shwedaung Monastery IDP camp in Mrauk-U, though government assistance covers only 13 families.
“We have 26 families and 103 people in the camp so far,” he told RFA. “The government’s Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement provided 21 rice bags for 13 families. They say this food aid is for a month, with two cans of rice for each person a day. ”
Government food rations have yet to arrive at an IDP camp in Sinbaw Kaing village where more than 1,700 displaced persons have sought refuge, said Ashin Nanda Tharya, a Buddhist abbot.
“Until today, we haven’t got any assistance from the government officials yet,” he said. “They haven’t come for inspections or assessments. They haven’t delivered food rations or any other assistance. The only form of help here is the clinic run by the [state] Health Department. There is no other help.”
The leaders at IDP camps in Mrauk-U’s Lay Myo Sar, Chaung Thit, and Chaw May villages told RFA that they also have not received any assistance from the government and must rely on donors to provide basic necessities.
Some locals have questioned whether the government’s insufficient aid to ethnic Rakhine IDPs is connected to their widespread support for the AA’s cause in the impoverished state wracked by religious and ethnic conflict.
Though the Rakhine state parliament passed a motion on Feb. 28 to provide sufficient assistance to displaced Rakhine villagers, government officials have failed to implement its measures, said state lawmaker Tun Tha Sein, who submitted the motion.
“Currently, the government assistance for the displaced refugees has been very little,” he told RFA. “We had requested during the parliamentary session that the state government provide enough aid. It needs to conduct an on-the-ground assessment and provide the assistance right away. ”
But Aung Kyaw Zan, Rakhine state’s minister of electricity, industry and transportation, said during the Feb. 28 parliamentary session that the government has already provided humanitarian aid worth 128 million kyats (U.S. $83,700) to displaced civilians.
When RFA contacted Nan Moe Nwe, assistant director of Mrauk-U township’s Disaster Management Department, she said that her agency is working on sending the aid to the IDP camps.
“The next batch will be delivered the day after tomorrow,” she said. “So far, we have provided aid for 1,027 people in 253 families lasting until March 7.”
Reported by Min Thein Aung and Wai Mar Tun for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung and Nandar Chann. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.