Fresh fighting broke out Wednesday in the mountain-top town of Mindat in Chin State, after nearly a month-long ceasefire between the Myanmar military and local civilian resistance fighters.
The clashes started at around 6:40am on Wednesday morning near Shwe Twin Tu village, and “continued heavily until afternoon”, a Mindat resident told The Irrawaddy.
The town saw heavy shootouts in May and June, displacing more than 10,000 residents who were forced to flee their homes for temporary shelters in villages, churches and monasteries.
Mindat residents joined the armed resistance against the military in May, following the junta’s brutal crackdowns on peaceful anti-regime protesters rejecting the Feb. 1 coup that ousted the democratically-elected National League for Democracy government.
The Mindat People’s Defense Force (PDF) fought the military’s sophisticated weapons with traditional homemade firearms normally used for hunting.
A temporary two-week truce was agreed by the Mindat PDF, town elders and the military on June 23 and then extended for another ten days.
“We heard that they were negotiating for about a week to further extend the truce, but the fighting resumed today,” said Ko Lawrence, a member of the Mindat Township internally displaced people (IDP) camp management committee.
The committee has been distributing food and medical assistance to those in need, despite junta forces seizing medicine if they found it at the checkpoints along the Mindat-Pakkoku road, which connects Chin State with Magwe Region. There are around 5,000 people still living in camps for the internally displaced, according to the committee.
“As we have had to flee often, we need rice and medicine. For medicine, it is more difficult, as there have been cases of the junta arresting people transporting medicine,” said Ko Lawrence.
People in the rural areas of Mindat are facing renewed hardship due to the fresh fighting, as Shwe Twin Tu village is more than 30 miles away from downtown, he added.
Locals have often been forced to flee their homes in the past three months due to fighting.
On Monday, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said its convoy arrived in Mindat to distribute humanitarian assistance to up to 5,000 people from Tuesday. It said 5,000 people from 1,000 households “are expected to benefit from the much-needed assistance”.
The aid supplies include non-food items such as tarpaulins, mosquito nets, sleeping mats, blankets, kitchen sets, solar lamps and personal protective equipment for COVID-19 prevention, among other items.
However, Mindat residents and the Township IDP camps management committee said that the military regime has limited aid supplies to those people sheltering at the temporary IDP camps recognized by the junta, and not to those IDP’s sheltering in rural areas.
“The convoy of the UNHCR and World Food Program has arrived in Mindat, but their aid is only allowed to be delivered to the displaced people in the town, where the number of IDP’s is far lower than in the rural areas. The military’s [state administrative] council does not allow aid to be delivered to the IDP’s in the villages,” said Ko Lawrence.
“Some 70 to 80 percent of the population of Mindat are still staying in rural areas, either with their relatives or at the villages’ IDP camps. We heard that the UNHCR aid is only for those IDP’s in town,” added Father Nicholas, a Catholic priest from Lukse village in Mindat. He has helped provide shelter for more than 1,500 displaced villagers for over a month, but the majority of them have recently returned home.
Residents said they are even hearing that the UNHCR trucks would take back aid supplies after distributing assistance to some 50 families in downtown Mindat.
Fr. Nicholas said people who recently returned to their homes had contacted him again on Wednesday and asked whether they can come and seek shelter again temporarily.
“Some people say they might have to flee again as the fighting has resumed near their villages. As the number of COVID-19 infections is rising, we are worried about large groups of people gathering,” said the priest.
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