Red Cross Says Services in Northern Rakhine Stalled by Fighting

By The Irrawaddy 8 February 2019

YANGON — The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) announced on Thursday that a number of its activities in northern Rakhine State have been stalled for weeks due to ongoing fighting between the military and rebel Arakan Army (AA).

On Jan. 10, a week after coordinated attacks by the AA on four police border posts in Maungdaw Township, the state government banned international relief agencies, including those affiliated with the U.N., from that and four other townships in northern Rakhine. The ICRC and World Food Program were exempt.

Since then, the military has also blocked aid shipments from local civil society groups. The ICRC and World Food Program are allowed access to only 17 locations in the region, and upper Kyauktaw Township and Paletwa Township in neighboring Chin State remain off limits.

Local volunteers and civil society groups estimated that about 6,000 people have been displaced by the fighting.

In an interview with The Irrawaddy last week, the ICRC said it could not access those displaced in Paletwa.

Because boats transporting aid are not allowed to reach some areas, host communities in the conflict zones have been sharing their resources with the new arrivals for more than a month. The fighting has also cut off some villages from markets in urban areas.

“People who had to flee from their villages are afraid. Many families have left their homes with very little or nothing, so they do what they can to help one another,” Dena Fisher, who heads the ICRC’s sub-delegation in the Rakhine State capital, Sittwe, was quoted as saying in a statement on Thursday.

Apart from providing food to more than 5,000 displaced people in the 17 locations in can access northern Rakhine, most other ICRC activities in the fields — including those related to healthcare, water, sanitation and agriculture — have been on hold for weeks, leaving many communities without access to livelihoods and other essential services. Its mobile clinics, which serve approximately 250 patients a week, stopped operating about three weeks ago.

“Although we are able to provide much-needed relief to most people displaced, we are increasingly concerned about the continuity of our operations for all other communities in Rakhine,” said Stephan Sakalian, head of ICRC Myanmar.

He said it was vital that humanitarian assistance reach all conflict-affected communities in order to minimize the impact of the fighting on the civilian population, in line with international humanitarian law.

Paletwa resident Ko Tin Tun said soldiers and police were preventing rice shipments from Kyauktaw to Paletwa and examining identity and travel documents at several checkpoints.

Ko Zar Nee Phyu, a member of the Rakhine Ethnic Congress, a local civil society group, said the military was not allowing rice to be shipped to upper Kyauktaw either.