Military Accused of Forced Portering as IDPs Rise in Arakan Conflict

By Su Myat Mon 22 April 2016

RANGOON — Displaced people from Rathedaung and Buthidaung townships in Arakan State continued to increase this week amid fighting between soldiers of the Arakan Army and government troops, with the latter accused by local lawmakers of forcing locals to porter.

The clashes have reportedly intensified in recent days, prompting hundreds of civilians to flee their homes for safer locales.

At least 300 internally displaced persons (IDPs) are sheltering in Saidaung village, in Buthidaung Township, and many others have arrived to Yae Soe Chaung and Yae Gaung Chaung villages in Rathedaung Township, from nearby settlements affected by the conflict.

Two lawmakers from the Arakan National Party (ANP) allege that civilians have been forced to porter for the Burma Army in the affected townships, with some then being allowed to return to their homes, but others still missing. Most cases occurred in Rathedaung, but some were also reported in Buthidaung, the lawmakers said.

Food shortages are also a concern among a largely agrarian displaced population that tends to rely on subsistence farming. Civil society organizations, local lawmakers and township authorities from Buthidaung are helping those displaced gain access to food and shelter.

“It is not enough that we are providing them food and temporary placement for the moment, they need to have permanent shelter to live safely,” Khin Maung Lat, one of the ANP lawmakers leveling the forced portering accusations, told The Irrawaddy on Friday.

Fellow ANP parliamentarian Aung Thaung Shwe put blame for the conflict on the Burma Army, which he said had failed to invite locals, not just in Arakan State but among ethnic minority populations more broadly, into a discussion about their states’ needs.

“Even though the government does not act on it, we will talk about it in the [Union] Parliament because we are lawmakers,” Aung Thaung Shwe told The Irrawaddy. He said the Arakan Army was formed to meet the local ethnic Arakanese population’s unmet needs and should be brought into a discussion with the new National League for Democracy (NLD) government and the military.

The Burma Army has not allowed locals to venture into the forest to forage or collect firewood at villages in both Rathedaung and Buthidaung townships since the conflict first flared up again this month, Aung Thaung Shwe said.