Northern Rakhine: Stable, but strenuous

By Min Thit

Rakhine Buddhists who have fled from violence in Maungtaw are passing their time in a temporary shelter at a stadium in Sittwe, Myanmar on October 25, 2016. Photo: Reuters/Soe Zeya Tun
Rakhine Buddhists who have fled from violence in Maungtaw are passing their time in a temporary shelter at a stadium in Sittwe, Myanmar on October 25, 2016. Photo: Reuters/Soe Zeya Tun

“I was born and brought up in this village. I can’t abandon my hometown for any reason,” said U Maung Mya Sein, a 65-year-old resident of Phawarchaung Village in the Maungtaw District of Rakhine State.
U Maung Mya Sein said he was not afraid of anyone, and didn’t leave the village when local residents fled to Sittway, Buthidaung and Maungtaw as soon as they heard that border guard police posts in Yathetaung and Maungtaw had been attacked.
Although the situation in the area has become stable, it is difficult to resume farming and other businesses because people are still worried.
To help ease some of the worries, the Rakhine State Hluttaw formed an 11-member investigation body into the 9/10 attacks on Yathetaung and Maungtaw on 24 October, according to U Aung Win, chairman of the body.
“First of all, we found people who abandoned their villages and left for Maungtaw, Buthidaung and Sittway for fear of the attackers. They had difficulty returning home, especially after violent attackers looted police weapons,” the chairman said.
After the attacks, the Tatmadaw and the police were hot on the heels of weapons looters and security was tightened in local villages, according to authorities.
In addition, Police Brig-Gen Thura San Lwin told local villagers that they would be trained to protect their own villages in accordance with Myanmar law and international rules, but would not be allowed to do anything they wanted.
“I didn’t flee because of the attacks as I didn’t have any money to flee, but I had to live in fear. However, there were no males of different religions nearby since they had already fled to Thechaung. Only their families were left,” said Daw Aye Aye Khaing of Launglon Village as he walked on the road to the Kyikanpyin Police Post, one of three that were attacked on 9 October.
Although some schools in areas affected by the violent attacks have been reopened, the majority are still closed, according to locals.
Moreover, locals said attackers fell tall trees along their routes of withdrawal so that they could not be easily followed by security forces.
When the investigation committee made field trips to the scene, they found only women and children along the route of the attacks.
Residents of Kyikanpyin Village, which is near the border police outpost that had been attacked, burnt down their village by themselves and made it look as if the village were set on fire by the Tatmadaw and the police, according to one of the findings of the committee.
“Members of the Tatmadaw and the police have to follow their own rules and regulations as well as the law. They can’t do anything they want; otherwise they will have to face legal action,” Police Brig-Gen Thura San Lwin said to locals in villages in Maungtaw District.
“The attacks showed that they intentionally did it. They planned for a long time and launched coordinated attacks on various posts,” according to the chairman of the committee.
“The recent issue is not between the two communities, but is concerned with the sovereignty of the union. Raids on headquarters amount to rebellion,” the chairman said.
In addition, the chairman suggested a scenario in which residents left the village with their valuables before setting it on fire as if security forces had burnt it down.
Security is of utmost importance for the local villages because, without safety, local people cannot live there peacefully and without fear. Ethnic villages are located among other villages, and it is important to provide security and patrol for villages, according to the chairman of the committee.
“The security of the western gate is not enough just with barbed wire because they can be cut with a wire cutter. It is necessary to build a concrete wall to reinforce security forces there and arm the locals before setting up agricultural and livestock breeding farms for them,” the chairman said.
The investigation committee will submit its report to the Speaker of the Rakhine State Hluttaw, the Rakhine State Government and the Union Government.
While many villagers are still living in fear due to armed violent attacks, the villagers in Kyeinchaung Village, where communities of different faiths reside, are experiencing community peace and stability. There have been no conflicts in the village, even in the emotionally charged events of 2012, when there were clashes between Buddhists and Muslims.
“We don’t like any forms of violent attacks. We want to work in peace for our livelihoods,” said Rawbi Arlaung, a Muslim from the village.
The trading in Maungtaw Market also declined dramatically since the 9 October armed attacks.
“Our customers have not come to us since the violent attacks due to instability of the region,” said U Su Tin, who sells clothes at the Maungtaw Market.
From 2008 to 1991, the then government has established 36 villages in the border areas in Maungtaw and Buthidaung, and assisted ethnic populations to settle there. But, it is difficult for the residents to thrive due to scarcity of jobs. In recent years the population has decreased dramatically.
“It’s urgently needed to create job opportunities there, so ethnic villages can exist. Besides, ethnic businessmen should invest in these areas to create job opportunities for residents,” said U Than Shwe, who is carrying out philanthropic works in Sittway.
The number of villagers who fled their villages due to armed attacks has decreased, resulting in fewer people at the shelters, according to the Rakhine State Government. But hardships still persist.
“I have no land for growing crops. Despite anxiety for my security, I will have to catch fish tomorrow for my livelihood,” said U Maung Mya Sein, 65, of the Village of Hparwutchaung in Maungtaw District.

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