Myanmar’s junta blocks access to humanitarian aid in Rakhine state

Fighting has spread to Rakhine despite a truce signed by Myanmar’s military and the Arakan Army, the local ethnic armed group. Once again, the civilian population is caught in the middle. In the past month, the number of displaced people and people in need of aid has increased.

Yangon (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Myanmar’s military junta, which overthrew the civilian government of Aung San Suu Kyi last year, has ordered international humanitarian agencies to halt their operations in the western state of Rakhine because of fighting between its forces and the Arakan Army (AA).

An internal memo sent to an aid agency working in area noted that, as of yesterday, the junta had temporarily blocked access to the townships of  Buthidaung, Maungdaw, Rathedaung, Mrauk-U, Minbya, and Myebon “until further notice”.

Last month fighting intensified in the northern part of the state and in Paletwa Township, in neighbouring Chin State, despite a truce signed by the AA and the military in November 2020.

The ongoing civil war is pitting Myanmar’s regular armed forces against the People's Defence Force of Myanmar, the armed wing of the National Unity Government (NUG), and the armed forces of some of the country’s ethnic minorities.

In the recent past, the AA has become increasingly active. The decision to deny access to aid agencies follows the AA’s announcement that it would check all vehicles for security reasons, in an attempt to weed out junta infiltrators.

"We must carry out these checks as there is the possibility of heavier fighting throughout Rakhine, given the increasing intensity of clashes in Rakhine and Paletwa," the AA said.

Earlier this month, the United Nations also warned of the possibility of such an escalation.

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), the recent clashes are displacing more and more people.

According to data updated to 5 September, at least 2,270 families (about 9,600 people) fled their homes due to the fighting, bringing to 84,000 the number of displaced people in the region in need of humanitarian assistance.

Most have been in this condition since fighting broke out in Rakhine between the AA and the army in 2018-2020.