No New Camps for Displaced People: Rakhine Govt

By Moe Myint 29 August 2017

YANGON — The Rakhine State government will not establish new camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the state’s northwest despite the number of residents of three townships fleeing the recent conflict rising to 10,000, according to state government secretary U Tin Maung Swe.

The state government has been evacuating Arakanese and Hindu families from Maungdaw, Buthidaung, and Rathedaung townships to temporary camps, military bases, monasteries and schools dotted around the region, he said.

However, the state government will return the villagers when the situation on the ground has stabilized, added U Tin Maung Swe.

Thousands of locals have fled their homes since Muslim militants attacked 30 border outposts and one army base on August 25, killing 10 policemen and one soldier. At least 59 militants died in the orchestrated assaults, with the ensuing violence swelling the death toll to at least 110 people, according to the government.

Safety Fears

The exodus comes amid government reports that the group that claimed the attack— the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA)—is targeting civilians.

On Sunday, the State Counselor’s Office said militants shot dead six members of a Hindu family in southern Maungdaw and state media reported on Tuesday that 22 ethnic Daingnet people were beaten by “terrorists” armed with sticks and machetes the previous day, leaving six of the community dead.

U Tin Maung Swe told The Irrawaddy over the phone on Tuesday that security forces were evacuating some of the villagers to 36 shelters protected by security forces.

Meanwhile, thousands of Rohingya Muslims—labeled by the government and many in Myanmar as “Bengalis”—have escaped to the Bangladesh border, where they are beset by a lack of food, shelter, and medicine, and at risk of being sent back by Bangladesh authorities.

U Tin Maung Swe acknowledged that government workers have “not seen a single Muslim” seeking refuge in their designated shelters.

“We will also help them if they take refuge under our care. They don’t need to run to the neighboring country’s border if they have done nothing wrong and we also have a responsibility to protect innocent civilians,” he said.

Food Shortage Concerns

Teacher Ko Min Min Zaw of sub-township Taungpyoletwei—more than 40 kilometers from Maungdaw—told The Irrawaddy that Rakhine chief minister U Nyi Pu and Union social welfare minister Dr. Win Myat Aye arrived by helicopter in the area, where they distributed noodles and eggs to about 1,000 displaced Arakanese.

“The situation is calm here today but the clashes can occur anytime,” he said.

Ko Than Zaw Oo, a member of Maungdaw’s emergency relief committee, said Buddhists and Muslims closing all their shops have caused a food shortage among displaced people.

About 4,000 IDPs including 1,400 Hindus sought refuge in downtown Maungdaw, he said, explaining the number was too big for his group alone to assist.

“Other commodities are unavailable in the town so IDPs have been relying on rice and beans,” he said. “The state government has not distributed rice bags for the IDPs yet.”

Local relief efforts have appealed to the public in Rakhine for funds to combat food shortages, with the money sent via bank accounts to locally-trusted aid groups.

Maungdaw residents censured the government for what they said were delays to food deliveries, stressing that displaced people do not have enough supplies to last them the week.

The Irrawaddy contacted several Muslim sources from Maungdaw but none of them could be reached on Monday.

U Tin Maung Swe said two-weeks worth of rations were being transported in military vehicles for immediate distribution, but he declined to comment on whether the state chief minister has a long-term solution to feed the displaced people.

Some people, he added, had sheltered with relatives in Rathedaung, Ponnagyun, and Kyauktaw townships as well as in the state capital Sittwe.

The government said it was investigating whether international non-governmental organization staff had been involved in an alleged siege by militants of a village in Rakhine. Reuters reported on Sunday that nearly 100 staff of international aid agencies had been seen leaving Buthidaung in speedboats following that statement.

The government also re-posted photographs of energy biscuits with the logo of the World Food Programme (WFP) on them, which it said had been found at a “terrorist camp” in August.

The government began shutting down three displacement camps in troubled Rakhine State in April following a call from the Rakhine Advisory Commission, led by former UN chief Kofi Annan, to close all of the state’s camps in order to heal simmering ethnic tensions.