Burma

Regime Suspends Boat Travel in Western Myanmar After Junta Soldiers Abducted 

By The Irrawaddy 30 June 2022

Residents of the Rakhine State capital Sittwe have had their day-to-day life seriously disrupted after local military authorities barred passenger ferries and cargo vessels from leaving Sittwe until further notice. 

The ban comes after a Myanmar navy officer and sailor were abducted in broad daylight on June 23 by the Rakhine ethnic armed organization, the Arakan Army (AA). 

Amid rising military tensions in western Myanmar’s Rakhine State, the military regime has blocked waterways in northern Rakhine and ordered the suspension of ferry services operating between Sittwe and a number of townships including Taungup, Kyaukphyu, Ramree, Munaung, Pauktaw, Minbya, Myebon, Mrauk-U, Rathedaung and Buthidaung, citing security concerns. 

Rakhine is a largely coastal and riverine region and the new restrictions on water transport are taking a heavy toll on locals, said former lower house lawmaker U Poe San from Kyaukphyu Township.

“People have to rely on water transport in Rakhine. Distance learners [from other parts of Rakhine] who have taken semester exams [at Sittwe University] are stranded in Sittwe. Even the civil servants are having difficulties as the ferryboats can’t operate,” he told The Irrawaddy. 

Commodity prices have also steadily increased as a result, said Ann resident Ko Ann Thargyi. 

“The regime’s blocking of waterways is unacceptable. They cite security concerns as the reason to block waterways. They don’t need to do that. They can check vessels if they are suspicious,” he told The Irrawaddy.  

The junta has also blocked the Sittwe-Ponnagyun-Rathedaung road since the second week of June. Prices of agricultural goods have consequently soared and supplies are running out, according to local farmers. June is the rice-growing season in Myanmar. 

A trader from Rathedaung Township said: “Although the military has observed an informal ceasefire with the AA, it is instilling fear in people and causing financial hardship. Vessels in Sittwe can’t leave the town and vessels from other towns can’t enter Sittwe. Fuel and fertilizer are running short in other parts of Rakhine.” 

In 2020, ahead of the November general election, the Myanmar military and the AA agreed an informal ceasefire. Now, after 18 months of relative calm, tensions are escalating again and Rakhine State is edging ever closer to a return to conflict.  

Earlier in June, the AA abducted 13 junta soldiers and police in Kyauktaw, Ponnagyun, Mrauk-U and Sittwe townships, alleging that the regime has seized members of its administrative branch, which has gradually been replacing the junta’s administrative mechanism in Rakhine since last year’s coup. 

Regime forces have responded by detaining dozens of civilians on suspicion of having ties to the AA, causing panic among local residents. 

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