Over 2,000 Homes Razed by Fire in Two Years of Clashes in Myanmar’s Rakhine, Group Says

By Khine Rola 7 December 2020

SITTWE, Rakhine State—Over 2,000 houses in nearly 50 villages in Rakhine and Chin states have been reduced to ashes in armed conflicts between Myanmar’s military (or Tatmadaw) and the Arakan Army (AA) over the past two years, according to a local civil society organization.

A total of 2,005 houses in 48 villages have been burned down since clashes broke out between the two sides in November 2018, with most of the damage being reported in Kyauktaw, Rathedaung and Buthidaung townships in northern Rakhine, according to the Rakhine Ethnic Congress (REC).

“We have been keeping a list since the fighting erupted. Most of the houses were burned down in mid-2020 when the clashes were at their fiercest,” REC Secretary U Zaw Zaw Tun told The Irrawaddy.

According to the REC, fires resulting from armed clashes destroyed 14 villages in Kyauktaw, nine in Rathedaung, eight in Buthidaung and one or two each in Mrauk-U, Minbya, Ponnagyun, Ann, Kyaukphyu and Chin State’s Paletwa.

U Zaw Zaw Tun claimed the fires were caused by the Myanmar military during counterattacks against AA fighters, whom the Tatmadaw accuses of staging attacks from inside villages.

The government compensates the owners of destroyed homes 100,000 to 300,000 kyats (about US$75 to $225) each, depending on the type of house. It is also planning to rebuild houses in areas where military tensions have eased.

The Rakhine government said it would rebuild 40 of 170 houses destroyed by fire in Taungpauk and Payapaung villages in Kyauktaw at a cost of 5 million kyats per house, funded by taxes collected from private companies.

Rakhine State government spokesman U Win Myint said, “170 houses were burned down in two villages in Kyauktaw. And we have selected tender winners to rebuild 40 houses in the first phase.”

The deputy administrator of Kyauktaw Township, U Min Min Soe, said, “The houses will be rebuilt in their original villages. We are assessing which households to give priority to, and we will rebuild the houses according to the order of priority.”

Local civil society organizations have welcomed the government’s plan to rebuild houses, but stressed the need to recreate livelihoods for local residents.

“The government should provide assistance to locals so that they can resume their businesses and restore their livelihoods,” U Zaw Zaw Htun said.

Residents of Payapaung Village said they were informed that 20 homes would be rebuilt in each village.

U Tha Hla, who lost his house in a fire in Payapaung, said, “We lost all our belongings in the fire. We’ve lost many things. But I don’t want to complain too much, as we will get shelter while we have no abode to live in.”

Payapaung Village caught fire at around 8 p.m. on Sept. 3 when government troops conducted a clearance operation after the AA carried out mine attacks against them nearby.

In the incident, 184 houses—110 in Payapaung and 74 in Taungpauk—were reduced to ashes, local residents said. Two residents of Payapaung were also reportedly shot dead by the Myanmar military. The Tatmadaw blames the AA for the incident, however.

Over 230,000 people have been displaced in northern Rakhine since clashes broke out in November 2018, according to the REC.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko

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