YANGON, Myanmar (AP) – Thousands of people in an area of western Myanmar where there have been conflicts between the government and ethnic rebels have fled their villages over the past week following an evacuation order from officials.
The state government of Rakhine had ordered villagers in Rathedaung Township in an order on June 23 to inform residents that they had to stay out of their homes because of the military’s plans to conduct a “cleanup” against the rebels. “Clearance Operation” is the military usage in Myanmar for action against uprising.
The exodus from more than 40 villages continued nearly a week later, even though the order was withdrawn on June 26 by the state security and border affairs of Rakhine State.
“Since the day the order was issued, more than 10,000 people from the area of operations fled their villages,” said Khin Maung Latt, MP for the Rathedaung Township, Monday.
The government has been engaged in an intermittent conflict with the Arakan army, a well-trained and well-armed guerrilla force representing members of the Rakhine ethnic minority in the area, for more than a year.
The guerrilla fighter represents the greatest military challenge for the central government of the many ethnic minority groups that have been striving for greater autonomy for decades.
Human rights lawyers have accused the military of using excessive force and attacking civilians in their operations against guerrilla fighters.
In Rakhine, the military launched counter-insurrections against insurgents from the Muslim Rohingya minority in 2017, but critics claim they used a terror campaign to drive the Rohingya out of the country. An estimated 740,000 Rohingya fled to neighboring Bangladesh, where they reside in refugee camps.
The Rakhine are Buddhist, the religion of nearly 90% of Myanmar’s population.
During the last week’s exodus, some people fled to other villages outside the designated area and others to Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine.
“We have to flee the village because we don’t want to meet the soldiers of the army. They shot into the village and arrested the villagers to use as human shields, “said Aye Mg, a 58-year-old resident of Kyauktan village in Rathedaung Township, where the government previously detained dozens of suspected Rakhine militants.
Civil society organizations and Buddhist monks help shelter the newly displaced villagers.
“Because of the fighting, people can no longer live in their place. We receive more than 300 displaced persons in our monastery; about 100 of them arrived recently, “said Okkahta, a monk, from the Tahtipati Sipintharyar Monastery in the city of Rathedaung.
“It’s like a day of judgment for them,” said legislator Khin Maung Lat, explaining why villagers fled. ‘They are afraid. This is the impact of the evacuation order to stay away from the village during the military operation. “
“Even most village administrators flee the villages,” he said. “Even they are afraid to go back to their villages.”
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