The Irrawaddy

Villagers Flee Maungdaw Security Operations

Dozens of Maungdaw residents flee their homes in rural Maungdaw Township to Arakan State capital Sittwe on Friday afternoon. (Photo: Hein Htet / The Irrawaddy)

The Arakan State Chief Minister conducted a meeting with civil society organizations on Monday morning on how to shelter hundreds of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in state capital Sittwe, according to city resident U Thar Pwint, who attended the meeting.

U Thar Pwint said that as of Monday morning about 800 IDPs who have fled homes in Maungdaw Township in northern Arakan State are depending on several Buddhist monasteries in Sittwe for support.

After alleged militants attacked border police checkpoints on Oct. 9, killing nine police officers and looting firearms and ammunitions, military security operations have resulted in several dozen deaths among the army, the police and alleged Islamic militants in Maungdaw Township and have caused villagers to flee.

Arakan State Chief Minister U Nyi Pu agreed to open a temporary camp at Danyawaddy sports grounds in Sittwe where IDPs—mainly women, children, and the elderly—are provided with food, clothes, and mosquito nets.

The Irrawaddy contacted Arakan State spokesperson U Min Aung to learn more about the relocation plan but he was unavailable for comment.

Social activist and Sittwe resident Ko Wai Hun Aung was surprised to hear the number of IDPs in Sittwe had risen to 800 from merely 200 a few days ago.

The number of IDPs is also climbing in Maungdaw where Buddhist Arakanese residents—who are estimated to make up less than 10 percent of Maungdaw and neighboring Buthidaung townships—continue fleeing from countryside villages to Maungdaw town.

Ko Wai Hun Aung was distributing food to IDPs in Maungdaw and said that about 1,500 people are relying on aid in Buthidaung and 450 in Maungdaw downtown monasteries.

“Most of the displaced persons are now in Buthidaung town because they believe the security force is better than in downtown Maungdaw,” he said.

Ko Wai Hun Aung said that although they have not been attacked, IDPs are concerned about safety in Maungdaw Township’s rural areas because the small Buddhist Arakanese villages are surrounded by Muslim villages.

Buddhist and Muslim communities in Arakan State, also known as Rakhine State, remain largely segregated since anti-Muslim violence in 2012 and 2013, which displaced around 140,000 people, the majority of them self-identifying Muslim Rohingya. The government does not recognize the Rohingya among Burma’s official ethnic groups, and instead labels them as “Bengali.”

Irrawaddy reporters on the ground have reported during the recent skirmishes in northern Arakan State, many Rohingya have also fled their villages. The Burma Army has been blocking media access to rural areas of Maungdaw Township where security operations are taking place, on the grounds that it is unsafe, and many local Rohingya have been fearful of talking to media.

Some Maungdaw Township villagers have remained in rural areas to watch over property and land. When speaking to The Irrawaddy they said that everything was calm.

On Monday afternoon, Union ministers who visited Arakan State last week held a press conference in Naypyidaw. According to the government press release, five soldiers have been killed since operations begun. A total of 29 suspected militants have been killed and another 29 suspects are currently detained for interrogation.

According to local sources, the bodies of three Arakanese villagers who had been missing since Oct. 10 were reportedly found near the Pyint Phyu village on Monday afternoon. It was unclear how or when they died and calls to Maungdaw police officials went unanswered.