Villagers in conflict areas of western Myanmar’s Rakhine state said Thursday that government army soldiers are detaining civilians they accuse of supporting Rakhine rebels amid fighting between the Arakan Army and Myanmar troops.
Clashes between the AA and government army have occurred in Rathedaung, Ponnagyun, Kyauktaw, Buthidaung and Pletwa townships throughout December.
Government soldiers launched an offensive against AA troops with heavy weapons and helicopters in Pletwa township on Wednesday and in Rathedaung’s Kru Chaung village on Thursday, AA spokesman Khine Thukha told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
The Myanmar Army also destroyed a house when it attacked Kyauktaw’s Shinma Wintaung village with heavy weapons Thursday morning, causing residents to flee to safety to Thalu Chaung village, Khine Thukha said.
Government spokesman Zaw Htay said during a press conference on Dec. 21 that the Myanmar Army was not using helicopters in battles in Rakhine state, but only for resettlement and development work there.
About 2,000 people have fled their homes because of the recent hostilities, with government soldiers taking away and questioning some villagers, residents said.
“The government army took hundreds of villagers to a monastery and questioned them [about the AA] in Yekaung Chaung village of Rathedaung township,” said a village resident who declined to give his name out of fear for his safety. “They let the women go home in the evening, but they are still questioning the men.”
Maung Thein Nyunt, head of nearby Setaung village, said that government authorities took 11 village residents to Yekaung Chaung in the morning while they were working on their farms.
“They were taken as human shields, but they were released in the evening,” he said.
‘Local people are afraid’
Khin Maung Latt, an Arakan National Party lawmaker in Myanmar’s upper house of parliament who represents Rakhine state’s No. 2 constituency, said that Rakhine officials have informed government authorities about what the Myanmar Army is doing to villagers.
“We have asked them to take action according to law against military troops for their actions,” he told RFA.
“Local people are afraid and don’t dare to travel because fighting is occurring around their villages,” he said. “They run away out of fear whenever they see security guards.”
RFA could not reach the Myanmar military’s information team for comment.
Earlier this month, Myanmar troops clashed with AA soldiers in remote parts of northern Rakhine state’s Buthidaung and Rathedaung townships, leaving a few casualties on both sides, the government military’s Myawady news service reported.
Clashes began after AA troops ambushed a military column conducting “area clearance operations” near the Myanmar-Bangladesh border on Monday, the report said.
But AA spokesman Khine Thukha said the fighting began after the Myanmar military intruded into an AA-controlled area to conduct operations.
The AA has not signed the government’s nationwide cease-fire agreement, which 10 other ethnic armies have inked, because of the ongoing hostilities with the national military.
RCSS denies collaboration
Meanwhile, the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS), another ethnic armed organization that operates in Shan state, has denied accusations that it has collaborated with government forces to fight other ethnic armies.
The RCSS issued a statement on Dec. 25, saying that as an NCA signatory, it seeks to resolve political problems though dialogue rather than through fighting.
RCSS soldiers, also known as the Shan State Army-South (SSA-S), have not conducted offensives on other ethnic armed organizations, but rather they have fought back when the groups attacked them after entering RCSS-controlled territory, the statement said.
The RCSS also said that recent fighting with the Pa-O National Liberation Organization (PNLO) in Shan state occurred because the Pa-O army failed to hold discussions with the RCSS through the Joint Ceasefire Monitoring Committee, which monitors cease-fires in accordance with the NCA, and attacked RCSS soldiers.
The PNLO is an NCA signatory.
RCSS troops also battled Shan State Progress Party/Shan State Army-North (SSPP/SSA-N) soldiers earlier this week in Twan Kyaing village, about 25 miles from the town of Hsipaw, driving more than 600 people from their homes, the online journal The Irrawaddy reported.
The SSPP said the clashes began after the RCSS, which is based in southern Shan state, and government troops occupied its temporary posts in northern Shan on Dec. 24 and 25.
Though they have previously been allies engaged in fighting the Myanmar Army, the RCSS and SSPP have fought each other since October in Shan state’s Namtu, Kyaukme, Hsipaw, and Lashio townships, with the SSPP at times teaming up with the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) against the RCSS, The Irrawaddy said.
The Myanmar military on Dec. 21 declared a unilateral four-month cease-fire in Shan and Kachin states, the eastern and northern regions of the country that have been under armed conflict for much of the country’s 70 years of independence from Britain.
But the temporary cease-fire excludes Rakhine state, where the Myanmar Army has been fighting the AA and where an army crackdown in 2017 forced more than 725,000 persecuted Rohingya Muslims into Bangladesh.
Reported by Min Thein Aung and Thiha Tun for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.