YANGON—Chin State government officials led by Municipal Minister U Soe Htet have been stranded in Paletwa Township in the south of the state due to attacks by the Arakan Army (AA), an ethnic armed group engaged in ongoing fighting with the Myanmar military in neighboring Rakhine State.
The 11-member team of state government officials arrived in war-torn Paletwa on Sept. 5 to provide food and cash assistance to over 1,000 families affected by the armed conflict.
The AA attacked them with heavy and small arms as they were crossing the Kaladan River from Paletwa to Hakha, the seat of the Chin State government, on Wednesday at noon, forcing the government officials to return to Paletwa.
“We are still in Paletwa. We are making plans to leave. And we have to take security precautions,” U Soe Htet told The Irrawaddy on Thursday.
The attack was targeted at the government team, U Soe Htet said, but no one was injured.
“They targeted us. Some like that we came here. And some don’t. The displaced persons are happy that we provided national-level assistance of 40,000 kyats per family to over 1,000 displaced families in Paletwa. But the other group may not like that we came here,” U Soe Htet said.
Major General Zaw Min Tun of the Myanmar military’s Tatmadaw True News Information Team said the AA attacked a government military base at around 1 p.m. on Wednesday with 107-mm rockets.
“U Soe Htet is in a safe place. The AA shot at the military unit, not him. But he was on the vessel and crossing the river,” the military spokesman told The Irrawaddy.
The Irrawaddy could not independently verify the situation, as AA information officer Khaing Thukha was not available for comment, despite multiple attempts.
The AA has frequently expressed its dislike for U Soe Htet, a former Myanmar military officer. It has also accused him of spreading misinformation about the armed group.
U Soe Htet is running for a seat representing Paletwa in the Chin State parliament in the November election, on the National League for Democracy ticket.
The Khumi Affairs Coordination Council has released a statement expressing its concern about the possibility of holding a successful election in Paletwa.
As villages in Paletwa Township are located along the Kaladan River, candidates will have to campaign along it. However, with both banks of the river backed by hills and the AA active in the area, candidates are finding it difficult to reach villages in Paletwa while campaigning.
Candidate Bu Htan Paing of the Chin National League for Democracy, who is running for an Upper House seat in Paletwa, slammed the AA for targeting a government minister. He said he still cannot campaign in villages along the Kaladan River due to security concerns.
“The AA said they would not disrupt the election. But it is difficult to say if they are as good as their word. I want the AA and the Tatmadaw to reduce engagement as much as possible before the election, and avoid fighting until the election is over. Both sides say they are fighting for the people, and I want them to avoid military activities during the election, which is important for the people,” said the candidate.
In February, fierce clashes between the Tatmadaw and the AA in Paletwa blocked transportation routes to the township, leaving over 100,000 locals short of basic foodstuffs.
The AA has attacked government ministers in previous cases. On Feb. 19, it attacked a military helicopter carrying Union Minister for Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement Dr. Win Myat Aye and Rakhine State Chief Minister U Nyi Pu, who were traveling from Sittwe to Buthidaung to assist civilians affected by armed clashes.
It also abducted a group of Indian citizens who were traveling along the Kaladan River to conduct a survey on the Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport Project, along with NLD lawmaker U Whei Tin, on Nov. 3 last year. One of the Indian citizens died due to heart problems while in the AA’s custody.
The armed group released the other Indian citizens soon after, but held U Whei Tin for more than two months, not releasing him until Jan. 21, 2020. It accused U Whei Tin of informing the Myanmar military of its movements and spreading misinformation.
Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko
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