No Rescue Yet for Stranded Villagers in Rakhine

By Nyein Nyein 1 September 2017

SITTWE, Rakhine State — Nurses, teachers and government employees stranded along with villagers in Maungdaw Township repeated calls to be evacuated from the area, amid ongoing violence in the region.

On Friday, people seeking refuge in northern Maungdaw’s Taunggyo Let Wei police security post told The Irrawaddy that more than 2,000 are currently sheltering inside the station, and that they fear of being assaulted by Muslim militants active in the area.

A woman from Taung Pyo Let Wei, who requested not to be named, told The Irrawaddy that all she wants is “to be able to go back to my town, Kyauk Taw.” She has a young child with her, while her eight-year-old son remains with her parents in Kyauk Taw.

Before arriving in Taung Pyo Let Wei on Aug. 27, she said she and other villagers had to follow Myanmar Army troop columns, as they cleared improvised mines along the road from Thar Yar Kone village to Thinbaw Hla.

On Thursday, the education and health workers, along with the locals in Kyein Chaung and Ta Man Thar villages, were told that they would be airlifted out of the area by government rescue teams. They wore their uniforms for easy identification, they said. By evening, there was no sign of a rescue.

Around 1,200 Maungdaw residents arrive in Sittwe on Friday. (Photo: Nyein Nyein / The Irrawaddy)

Col Phone Tint, the Rakhine State border affairs and security minister told The Irrawaddy that they “were doing [their] best,” and that the area would be protected for “our ethnic people,” he said, a reference to the Buddhist Arakanese and Arakanese sub-groups in the region.

“We will keep staying in our place and there are both military and police forces for security.”

Reuters reported on Friday that military sources have evacuated more than 11,000 “ethnic residents” from the conflict area since an Aug. 25 dawn attack by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army on police security forces in Maungadaw and Buthidaung townships.

Myanmar Army clearance operations followed, and more than 38,000 Muslim Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh, according to the latest figures from the United Nations.

The total number of stranded villagers and government employees is not known, but The Irrawaddy has spoken to sources in three locations with a total of 3,500 awaiting evacuation. As of Friday, displaced people were still arriving in the state capital of Sittwe.

U Khine Pyay Soe, of the Arakan National Party, is now in Maungdaw providing assistance through the Rakhine emergency relief committee. He told The Irrawaddy that the government needs to find a way to clear mines from the area. If not, he warned, communications will be cut and people who are stranded will not be able to escape.