Myanmar forces are conducting new “clearance operations” in violence-wracked northern Rakhine state following two separate attacks on ethnic Rakhine Buddhists, while ongoing fighting between an ethnic armed group and government troops continues to drive hundreds of villagers from their homes in other areas.
Security forces are conducting the operations along Pyu Ma creek after six unidentified men attacked and abducted two ethnic Maramagyi men from Kyein Chaung (Middle) village in northern Rakhine Maungdaw district as they were fishing on Monday evening, Myanmar’s Commander-in-Chief’s Office said in an online statement issued Thursday.
The six men who spoke Bengali and arrived by boat took the pair to the creek’s west bank and attacked them. Maung Tha Hla, who sustained five knife wounds, and Saw Tun Oo, who was covered in bruises, managed to escape to Upper Pyu Ma, a Rakhine village on the opposite bank of the creek, the statement said.
As the village administrator and several residents arrived to help them, the attackers fled along the creek to the Nat River, it said.
In a separate case, two ethnic Rakhine men were found dead with their throats slashed on the bank of Pyu Ma creek less than 5,000 feet from the north of Upper Pyu Ma, an ethnic Rakhine village, after they went fishing on Monday evening.
When the two men — Maung Tun Aye from Upper Pyu Ma village in Maungdaw township and Maung Maung Than from Ohn Chaung village in Rathedaung township — did not return, security forces, village administrators, and residents searched for them and found them dead, the statement said.
And on Dec. 16, a teenage girl from Maungdaw’s Thit Taw village was found dead with her throat slit about two miles away after she went missing the previous day while tending cattle, the online journal The Irrawaddy reported.
Local residents said the Myanmar Army appointed more border guards to the area following the incidents, but half the villagers from Pyu Ma have fled out of fear for their safety following the killings.
Residents are fearful because the slayings occurred less than a mile from the community, said San Win, a Nga Khu Ya village resident who attended the funeral of the two murdered men on Thursday.
'Waiting to do this'
Maungdaw district, where Nga Khu Ya village is located, was at the epicenter of a brutal crackdown — also referred to as “clearance operations” — by the military on Rohingya communities following deadly attacks on police outposts by a Muslim militant group in August 2017.
The village was burned down during the campaign of violence in northern Rakhine, which included indiscriminate killings, torture, rape, and arson, and drove more than 725,000 Rohingya across the border to Bangladesh.
The Myanmar government has denied its troops were responsible for atrocities committed against the Rohingya, despite extensive reports and evidence to the contrary that have led the United Nations, rights groups, and other nations to say the campaign amounted to ethnic cleansing, genocidal intent, or genocide itself.
“There is a Muslim village on the other side of Pyu Ma Creek,” San Win told RFA's Myanmar Service. “People are saying that Muslims from this village have been waiting for chance to do this, and that they did it when they had the chance.”
“The villagers are frightened because they can come into the village anytime,” he added. “Only a few people from two or three houses still live here, and they said they are going to leave, too.”
‘Ethnics must be very careful’
Kyaw Win, a villager from Long Ton village adjacent to Pyu Ma village, said ethnic Rakhine residents are often killed by Muslims in the region.
“We have border guards in the region, but not enough to take care of every village,” he told RFA. “There are no security guards in Pyu Ma village.”
Tun Hla Sein, a lawmaker who represents Maungdaw township constituency in the lower house of the national parliament, said most villages, but not all, have security guards to help ensure security.
“Local ethnics have to be very careful,” he said. “When the refugees return from Bangladesh, there will be some who want to live peacefully in Rakhine, but there might also be some who will try to create problems in the region.”
“We have to live together with them because we lived together with them before, but we have to be careful,” he said.
Myanmar and Bangladesh signed an agreement 13 months ago to repatriate Rohingya refugees who want to return voluntarily to Myanmar and who are verified as eligible to return, though the program has yet to begin.
Fighting displaces more villagers
Meanwhile, fighting between the Arakan Army (AA) and the Myanmar military has prompted more than 400 villagers from Rakhine’s Kyauktaw township to flee to safety, local residents said.
They are now staying temporarily in the township’s Kan Saut, Thalu Chaung, and Ngazinyine Khing villages, they said.
They have been fleeing since Dec. 18 when the government army began attacking the AA with heavy weapons.
Maung Thein Sein, a lawmaker from Kyauktaw township, told RFA that the two sides engaged in fighting in Twin Pyannya village on Thursday.
Representatives from the Arakan National Party (ANP), which represents the interests of ethnic Rakhine people in the state, are providing rice to the displaced villagers, Kan Saut, the head of Thinkha Kyaw village, told RFA.
The ANP has requested that Kyauktaw township’s administrator provide the displaced residents with emergency assistance, he said.
Reported by Tin Aung Khine and Min Thein Aung for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.