YANGON – Former village administrator U Maung Mae told The Irrawaddy over the phone on Monday that around 100 residents from Tarein village in Rakhine State’s northern Maungdaw have left their homes following the killing of two men over the weekend.
Tarein is made up of 84 ethnic Rakhine households, with a total population of 156, the majority of whom rely on agriculture and paddy cultivation.
The State Counselor’s Office Information Committee released a statement describing the incident, which occurred on Saturday morning. Four men from Tarein reportedly were hunting for tortoises when they were attacked by eight other men armed with machetes; two were wounded and escaped, while one was found dead later on Saturday, and another on Monday. Possible witnesses are reportedly being questioned.
The statement did not elaborate on the cause of the confrontation.
As the authorities—relying on eyewitness accounts—identified the perpetrators as Muslims, the incident has contributed to an atmosphere of growing mistrust between the area’s Buddhist Rakhine and Muslim communities, many of the latter identifying as Rohingya.
Rakhine landowners in the area once hired local Muslims to farm, and tend cattle. Villagers say that these working relationships have become less common in recent months.
In October of 2016, Muslim militants attacked three border police outposts in the area, killing nine policemen. In the aftermath of the attacks, the Myanmar Army and police carried out joint “clearance operations” in northern Rakhine State, during which United Nations agencies estimated around 70,000 Rohingya Muslims were displaced. The area remains highly securitized.
The double murder on Saturday has “terrified” Tarein’s villagers, former village administrator U Maung Mae said, adding that “hearsay has gone viral” among members of the community, leading many residents to flee to the town of Maungdaw, where they feel safer.
“They are scared to tend cattle outside and go out in search of forest products. How can we survive in this condition?” he said.
Ko Thein, a resident from nearby Kyein Chaung village, said that members of his community had also left for Maungdaw and Buthidaung towns.
A border police officer, who spoke to The Irrawaddy on the condition of anonymity, declined to give a specific number of those who had fled, and accused locals of spreading false information. He added that “enough” police had already been deployed to Tarein.
A series of unresolved attacks on individuals has plagued northern Rakhine State in recent days, allegedly carried out by unidentified groups of masked men whose affiliations and motivations are not known.
An administrator from Khaung Ta Ka village was killed at around 2 a.m. on Saturday—his son and daughter were reportedly stabbed as they tried to protect their father.
On early Sunday morning, an official from Myo Thu Gyi village, near Maungdaw town, was killed in a similar fashion; his two daughters were wounded in the attack and are receiving treatment at a Maungdaw hospital, according to the State Counselor’s Office Information Committee.
The committee also reported an incident in which ten masked men attempted to enter the house of Ahmi Ahli, head of Tet Oo Chaung village tract, last week. After being confronted by villagers, the assailants fired guns and fled. A suspect in the attack was reportedly apprehended by border police on Sunday.
A villager from Liek Ya was reportedly attacked as he prayed in a mosque on Sunday. He remains in hospital, and those who perpetrated the incident have not been found.
Last week, the Myanmar military and border police raided what they described as a militant camp the forest of the Mayu mountain range in Maungdaw Township. They killed three men in the process, and confiscated both homemade guns and 20 wooden dummy guns from the scene.