Myanmar’s military regime has ordered the United Nations (UN) and international NGOs operating in six townships of Rakhine State to halt their operations, as access to those areas has been temporarily blocked due to escalating clashes between junta forces and local ethnic armed organization the Arakan Army (AA).
An internal memo sent to an aid agency working in western Myanmar’s Rakhine State said that access to the townships of Buthidaung, Maungdaw, Rathedaung, Mrauk-U, Minbya, and Myebon has been temporarily blocked by the junta since Thursday “until further notice”.
Regime forces and the AA have been fighting in northern Rakhine State and neighboring Paletwa Township in Chin State since last month.
“They [the regime] indicated that no movement or distribution will be allowed in those townships. In other townships, only the distribution of Non-Food Items (NFIs) will be allowed,” the memo said, adding that the block on humanitarian operations will have huge implications for the local population and that there are also staff safety and security concerns.
The block on movement and aid distribution came one day after the AA announced on Wednesday that it would now check all vehicles [land and water] for security reasons, as the junta has been reinforcing and resupplying its forces by all means, including using civilian transport.
“We have to carry out these checks as there is the possibility of more heavy fighting throughout Rakhine given the growing intensity of clashes in Rakhine and Paletwa,” the AA’s announcement warned.
In recent weeks, the Myanmar military has lost two outposts to the AA, including one near the border with Bangladesh in Maungdaw Township. Since then the junta has been launching air and artillery strikes in northern Rakhine and Paletwa Township in Chin State.
On Thursday, the junta-controlled Department of Inland Water Transport ordered boat companies to halt their services to the six townships affected.
Earlier this month, the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) said in a statement that an escalation in fighting across Rakhine State and in Paletwa Township is driving an increase in the number of displaced people and creating a growing humanitarian crisis.
Security has been tightened in many areas across the state, with waterways and roads blocked in northern Rakhine, while the transportation of medical supplies and food into Paletwa has been restricted.
“These measures have limited people’s movement and are obstructing the delivery of humanitarian assistance,” said UNOCHA in the statement.
As of September 5, almost 9,600 people had been newly displaced within Rakhine and Paletwa Township, according to UN figures, bringing the total number of people displaced by past and present conflict between the AA and the Myanmar military across Rakhine and Paletwa to nearly 84,000.