Hundreds More Flee Fighting in Northern Rakhine Over Weekend

By Moe Myint 11 February 2019

YANGON — Fighting between the Arakan Army (AA) and the Myanmar military’s Light Infantry Division 22 drove more than 500 residents of Saung Du Village, in northern Rakhine State’s Kyauktaw Township, out of their homes over the weekend.

Village official U Kyaw Thaung said fighting erupted in a densely forested area 1 mile from Saung Du on Saturday. Though the mortar shells and bullets did not hit the village itself, he said, they could be heard from the homes, convincing more than half the population to flee to neighboring Ponnagyun Township for safety.

The village official declined further comments because he was busy accompanying soldiers and police on an inspection of the village to find out exactly who had left.

On Sunday the AA also announced that it recently clashed with a column of 200 soldiers in Kyauktaw Township near Taung Minkalar Village and that one of its fighters was killed. It said some Myanmar military soldiers were also killed but did not specify how many.

In the same statement, the AA said it had killed 16 soldiers in a series of clashes in Shin Ma Dein Village, in Chin State’s Paletwa Township, on Feb. 4.

The Irrawaddy could not independently verify the claims.

A Saung Du Village resident currently sheltering with 283 others at the Yoe Ta Yoke monastery in Ponnagyun told The Irrawaddy on Monday that most of the displaced villagers want to return home rather than rely on aid donations. But he said they heard that the military detained a 43-year-old farmer who had stayed behind while he was mending a fence and that they were worried the same could happen to them if they went back.

He said about 100 soldiers entered Saung Du after the fighting to search for collaborators, but most of the villagers had fled by then.

“Only the elderly and some men remained in the village to watch their homes. Maybe between 150 and 200 residents stayed in the village to look after their homes,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity out of fear for his safety.

The man said about 300 of those who left were at the monastery while the rest went to stay with their relatives in Kyauktaw or Ponnagyun.

Ko Zaw Zaw Tun, an aid worker with the Rakhine Ethnic Congress who visited the monastery, said the new arrivals told him that the village had been thrown into chaos by the fighting nearby and that residents scattered in many directions.

He said the weeks of fighting have now displaced some 7,000 people and that of those sheltering at the Yoe Ta Yoke monastery 32 were children under 5 years old.

Ko Zaw Zaw Tun said the villagers had a legitimate fear of arrest, noting that 38 ethnic Arakanese were already being held in jail in the state capital, Sittwe, accused of having ties to the AA. He said they were from Sittwe and the townships of Kyauktaw, Rathedaung, Buthidaung, Kyauktaw and Ponnagyun.