At least 1,000 people from Paletwa Township on the border of Chin and Rakhine states in western Myanmar have been forced to flee their homes, following fighting between the ethnic Rakhine armed organization the Arakan Army and the Myanmar military, according to residents and local aid groups.
Fighting broke out near Ah Baung Thar, Hna Maung Dar and Ree Ma Wa villages on August 21. Clashes were still ongoing as of 30 August, with regime forces calling in artillery strikes.
Some 1,000 people from around 190 households fled their homes in the three villages on August 24 because of the fighting. The majority are staying with relatives and friends. But around 300 of those forced to flee are staying at a cyclone shelter in Paletwa Town, said residents of the town.
The largest number of refugees is from Ah Baung Thar Village, where 120 households fled. Another 70 households left Hna Maung Dar and Ree Ma Wa villages, according to the Raiki Community Development Foundation (RCDF), a local NGO.
With no one left in the villages, there are fears that the refugees will go hungry as they are now unable to harvest their crops.
“This is the time for people in the township to harvest their crops of yam, peanuts, sesame and rice,” said Salai Kyaw Shun, founder of RCDF.
“But as they [AA and junta forces] keep fighting and the conflict area gets larger, the people are going to face starvation. We have no idea what we will do if the fighting intensifies,” he said.
With transportation routes into Paletwa blocked by the military regime, the price of all goods has gone up and stocks are running low, said locals.
“We no longer have any place to run away to. If the fighting gets heavier, we are going to starve,” said a 62-year-old man from Ah Baung Thar Village, who is now staying in Paletwa Town’s cyclone shelter.
Before last year’s coup, fighting between the AA and the Myanmar military in Paletwa displaced some 5,000 people and was ongoing until November 2020, when an informal ceasefire was agreed.
Now more and more clashes are taking place in the township, with civilians being killed or displaced.
On August 24, a 40-year-old mother of three was killed in a landmine blast near Ah Baung Thar Village.
Paletwa Township is of strategic importance to both the AA and the Myanmar military. Currently, junta forces still control Paletwa, with Light Infantry Battalion 289 deployed along the banks of the Kaladan River, the major waterway connecting Chin and Rakhine states.