YANGON—Amid fierce battles in northern Rakhine State, fully-equipped military columns are conducting clearance operations in southern Rakhine State’s Kyaukphyu Special Economic Zone (SEZ) area, while farmers in neighboring villages have been ordered to avoid cultivating paddy near Danyawaddy Regional Navy Command for the base’s safety, according to a village official.
The Danyawaddy naval base, located 4 kilometers east of downtown Kyaukphyu, has encompassed the villages of Sit Taw and Thit Poke Taung since the period of the military government. Besides the presence of the regional navy command in the SEZ area, military troops from Light Infantry Battalion (LIB) No. 543 and No. 542 have been patrolling there since late June.
The Chinese-backed Kyaukphyu SEZ, over which the Myanmar government and China International Trust and Investment Corporation (CITIC) struck a deal in November, will offer China access to the Bay of Bengal while enhancing its regional connectivity as part of Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
A resident from Say Maw Village, located 1 kilometer from the navy command, told The Irrawaddy that when a military column crossed the village on June 27 a resident took a photograph of it with their mobile phone but, when spotted by a soldier, the column began firing multiple rounds in the village. Two days later, on June 29, the commander of the Danyawaddy Navy Command summoned all village General Administrative Department (GAD) officials to the navy base and ordered them not to photograph military troops.
Representatives from Saing Krone, Hrauk Chaung, Say Maw, Pyar Day, Kattha Bray, Krat Tain, Doe Ma Taung, U Kin, Htaunt Chaung, Kalabar Taung, Sit Taw and Kran Chaing villages attended the meeting. Hrauk Chaung Village GAD official U Maung Chan Nu, who attended the meeting, told The Irrawaddy that village GAD officials from more than 10 villages were instructed not to grow paddies on nearby fields and to inform the navy command if any new faces showed up in the villages.
Village leaders from Saing Krone, Sit Taw and Say Maw villages requested they be permitted to cultivate their paddies in or near the navy command, but the commander told them to consider the consequences of his navy vessels being unexpectedly fired on, as happened in Sittwe, U Maung Chan Nu said. That attack, carried out from paddy fields on the outskirts of town, killed two of his junior officers, the commander told the village leaders; if something similar happened around the Danyawaddy base, they’d be in trouble.
U Maung Chan Nu said more than 50 acres of farmland from different villages are situated inside or near the navy command’s fence.
“I have never seen a fully-equipped military deployment in all of my life in this region,” U Maung Chan Nu said.
He said military troops are entering forested hills in and around Hrauk Chaung, Kat Tha Pyay, Pyar Tae, Krat Tain and U Kin villages but the navy commander told GAD officials not to be worried and not to flee when the column enters the villages.
Despite the commander’s assurances, some villagers remain frightened.
The Irrawaddy was unable to reach the Navy Command for comment as of Friday afternoon.
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