Thousands of Rakhine Civilians Return Home Amid Stability in Western Myanmar

By Khine Yoe Hla 25 November 2020

Sittwe – Thousands of internally displaced people (IDPs) in Rakhine State have returned to their homes, following a pause in fighting between the Arakan Army (AA) and Myanmar’s military, according to relief workers.

Fighting between the AA and Tatmadaw (military) intensified after November 2018 until early this month, leaving hundreds of civilians dead and thousands injured with many more displaced.

But the gunfire stopped about two weeks ago after statements from both sides.

The AA on Nov. 12 requested that Myanmar’s military and the government hold elections before Dec. 31 for nine northern Rakhine townships where voting in the Nov. 8 general election was canceled for security reasons. The statement said voters had lost their rights. In response, Myanmar’s military within hours welcomed the AA’s request.

Until last month, there were clashes along the Mayu River in Rathedaung Township between the navy and AA.

Officials at the Kyatyoeseik IDP camp in Rathedaung said 1,500 IDPs had returned to their homes in recent days as no clashes are being reported along the river. They are from Kanpyin and Minkan Chaung villages and took shelter at the camp last month.

“Clashes occurred whenever naval patrols were on the river. There are now no patrols and no clashes on the river. The area is peaceful and people can harvest their paddy fields. Most of the IDPs are farmers. So they returned home for the harvest,” said U Than Tun Win, who is responsible for the Kyatyoeseik camp.

He said the area is also peaceful because the AA released another statement announcing a ceasefire until the end of December.

“We are happy for the current conditions but we are still concerned about the threat of renewed clashes after December. We want to live peacefully,” U Than Tun Win said.

Ko Baggar of Rathedaung Township said the IDPs who have been taking shelters in the town have also started to return to harvest their paddy fields and to check their houses.

“The IDPs are now happy as there are no clashes. We want more reconciliation between the AA and Tatmadaw” said Ko Baggar.

About 2,000 people from eight villages in Kyaukphyu Township who had fled their homes in early November have now returned.

Daw Mya Phone Mol of the Kyaukphyu-based Phyusin Kannlat Civil Society said: “Females returned to their homes first – followed by the males – to harvest their paddy fields.”

Zai Chaung and Thaing Chaung villages in Kyaukphyu have been repopulated after villagers fled military interrogations after the AA arrested two soldiers near Zai Chaung on Nov. 2. The villagers were questioned for three days at a village school and not allowed to leave.

U Lin Tin, the Thaing Chaung village administrator, told The Irrawaddy that all the villagers had returned as there are no military movements and the area is peaceful.

Kam Htaung Gyi IDP camp in Myebon Township has also seen its residents return to their villages in Ann Township.

U Aung Win Myint, a relief worker from Kam Htaung Gyi, said more than 200 villagers from Thayet Pyin and Shaut Chong villages in Ann Township have returned, saying that more people would go back to their villages.

However, camps in northern Rakhine State’s Kyauktaw, Mrauk-U, Minbya, Myebon, Ponnagyun, Rathedaung and Buthidaung townships remain crowded.

The Rakhine Ethnic Congress relief group reported on Nov. 2 that more than 230,000 people are taking shelter in IDP camps, adding that many villages had been burned.

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