Army Detains Teachers, Villagers as Dozens Flee Fighting in N. Rakhine

By Moe Myint 30 January 2019

YANGON—Local residents and a monk told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday that a pair of primary schoolteachers and two villagers were detained for questioning by government troops in northern Rakhine State’s Rathedaung Township on Monday, as fighting in the area between the Myanmar military and the Arakan Army (AA) caused more villagers to flee their homes.

The abbot of the monastery in Ohn Chaung said fighting took place near the village on Monday morning, and that Border Guard Police and Army troops jointly conducted a search of the entire village on the same day. Ko Maung Htay, a resident of Ohn Chaung who managed to escape Army detention, told The Irrawaddy that about 40 local residents were sheltering in a neighboring village.

He said about 200 Army troops shot into the village after soldiers were ambushed by Arakan Army fighters near a hillside in the region. The AA announced on its official website that fighting erupted on Monday morning, adding that the Myanmar military (or Tatmadaw) had previously attacked the village, as well as Tha Mee Hla village

The Irrawaddy phoned Brigadier-General Zaw Min Tun of the Commander-in-Chief’s Office multiple times on Tuesday to ask him about the claim that troops shot into the village. The calls went unanswered, however.

In its news update, the AA claimed that Tatmadaw troops randomly fired about 70 artillery shells into the forest and that some of them had landed in hills near the village. It added that Ko Maung Shwe Aye, U Maung Kyaw and U Myat Thein Tun were arrested. Ko Maung Htay confirmed that Maung Shwe Aye, a schoolteacher, was detained by Army troops.

The other detained schoolteacher was identified as Than Win Chay.

Two women from Ohn Chaung told The Irrawaddy on condition of anonymity that the Army unit fired on them as it approached the village. No one was hit by the gunfire, but some structures were damaged, they said.

“They arrested teacher Maung Shwe Aye and later set him free,” said villager Yae Gaung Chaung.

It remained unclear on Wednesday whether the other detainees had been released.

The two women told The Irrawaddy over the phone on Monday that some 100 soldiers and Border Guard Police were camped in the village on Tuesday evening. Spent bullet casings could be seen on the ground in the village but a monk later disposed of them, fearing they might be dangerous for children.

“Soldiers forced the villagers to house them in the village at night,” one of the women said.

Amid fierce fighting in many locations in northern Rakhine, local civil society organizations estimate the displaced population to number at least 6,000 so far. Apart from the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement (ICRC) and World Food Program, the Rakhine State government is not allowing international relief agencies to provide assistance following the recent armed clashes in five townships. The vast majority of displaced villagers rely mainly on local aid groups.

The ICRC said it is continuing to provide assistance to approximately 5,000 people displaced by the recent violence in Rakhine State. Several thousand IDPs are sheltering in neighboring villages without proper accommodation. Neither the government nor the ICRC has put up tents or constructed temporary shelters for the IDPs. The ICRC said it can provide the necessary materials to construct shelters and sanitary facilities.