Rakhine Villagers Defy COVID-19 Lockdown to Flee Myanmar’s Military Offensive

By Min Aung Khine 25 September 2020

Sittwe, Rakhine State — Fresh clashes between Myanmar’s military and the Arakan Army (AA) have forced nearly 3,000 civilians from their rural homes in Rathedaung where the government has imposed stay-at-home orders since mid-August due to COVID-19.

Villagers said they fled their homes due to shelling by Myanmar’s navy along the Mayu River and because they feared raids by ground troops.

People from at least five villages have fled to Rathedaung town and Sittwe, the state capital, and nearby villages, according to civil society organizations (CSOs).

“Villages fled after artillery shells fell on our homes,” said U Aung Naing of Shwe Laung Tin village on Thursday.

“Yesterday, the Navy shelled almost the whole day and dropped troops on the riverbank near Gutaung village. So villagers were concerned that soldiers may enter their village and they fled,” he added.

Ko Bakkar of a Rathedaung-based CSO said: “For those displaced, CSOs and their relatives and friends are doing what we can to provide food. There are many difficulties. We can’t travel between townships and have difficulty transporting food.”

Myanmar’s military spokesman Major General Zaw Min Tun said the navy returned fire after the AA launched attacks near Htee Swe village at around 4pm on Wednesday.

“The AA attacked [our ship] with heavy and small arms some 2km south of Htee Swe village in Rathedaung yesterday. Some of the personnel were injured so we returned fire,” he told The Irrawaddy on Thursday.

As the government has declared the AA a terrorist organization, The Irrawaddy was not able to contact the armed group for a comment.

A civilian was killed and two others injured when artillery shells landed in Shwe Laung Tin village in Rathedaung on Sept. 17. Five people, including two five-year-olds, were killed and nine others were wounded when shells hit Nyaungkan village in Myebon Township on Sept. 8. On Sept. 3, Phaya Paung village in Kyauktaw caught fire and two villagers were shot dead.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko

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