Rakhine: hundreds of civilians flee fighting between Burmese and Arakan forces
Yangon (AsiaNews/Agencies) – At least 300 people were forced to flee Pyingso, a village in the western state of Rakhine, because of clashes between government troops and local ethnic militias. This comes at a time when the country is trying to reach a permanent ceasefire.
Rakhine state had already seen ethnic-religious violence between Arakan Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims. This time, Burmese soldiers were involved in fighting with the Arakan Army, local sources said. This is unusual because divisions in the state tend to be confessional rather than political as in Kachin and Shan.
“People have fled because they are concerned for their security,” said Usteven, chairman of the Khume Youth Organisation in Paletwa Township. What is more, “They don’t have enough food because no organisation has helped them yet.”
Although the Arakan Army is based in Rakhine State, its troops are fighting mainly in other areas where Burmese forces are pitted against ethnic minorities, particularly in the north, in Kachin, scene of a long bloody conflict.
However, between the end of March and April, the Arakan Army clashed on three different occasions with government troops near Paletwa Township.
Because of the violence, hundreds of civilians – at least 500 in Kyauktaw Township alone – sought shelter in camps, forced to live in tents.
The new outbreak of violence in Rakhine State threatens to derail President Thein Sein’s ambitious peace plan to end decades of bloody conflict between the central government and ethnic minorities.
The president wants to reach a historic deal before the general elections, scheduled for later this year. As part of this, a summit between the various ethnic groups to discuss a cease-fire is in the works for 3 May.
Myanmar is home to more than 135 ethnic groups, who have always struggled to coexist peacefully, especially with the central government, which is dominated by ethnic Burmese.
In the past, when a military junta ran the country, the authorities used an iron fist against the least amenable to central control, like ethnic Kachin in Kachin state, along the border with China in the north, and more recently with ethnic Kokang in Shan state.
After 17 years of relative calm, fighting broke out again in Kachin State in June 2011. Since then, dozens of civilians have been killed and at least 200,000 people have been displaced.
Last August, local bishops made a plea for peace, calling for a lasting solution to the conflict.