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Myanmar: Violence, famine displace ethnic Rakhine

Newly-displaced ethnic Rakhine on verge of food shortage amid fighting between military, rebels in western Rakhine State

Kyaw Ye Lynn   | 17.09.2019
Myanmar: Violence, famine displace ethnic Rakhine

YANGON, Myanmar 

A Buddhist monk is unsure about whether he should leave his monastery after armed fighting left villagers homeless and without food in the northern part of Rakhine state earlier this month.

Eleven houses in a village in Yathay Taung town were destroyed during clashes between government troops and members of an ethnic rebel group, the Arakan Army -- a predominantly Buddhist ethnic group -- that broke out near the village on Sept. 5.

A week later, most villagers abandoned the village due to the shortage of food.

"Although the fighting directly impacted only 50 family members of 11 households, its consequences are huge," Abbot Ashin Naryaka told Anadolu Agency on Tuesday.

He said the villagers were afraid of leaving the town as rumors spread that the military had planted landmines in nearby areas after the fighting, adding that authorities has done nothing to the help villagers despite their appeals for the food last week.

"We ran out of rice. That’s the main problem. That’s why villagers left the village," he said, underlining that he was having only one meal a day.

Buddhist monks usually have two meals per day, breakfast in the early morning and lunch before noon.

"I will also have to leave if there is no rice donation [from either authorities or individuals] in a week," he said.

Khin Maung latt, a regional lawmaker representing the Yathay Taung township, told Anadolu Agency that a local charity group was planning to visit the village and donate food to villagers.

"The villagers have not received any assistance from authorities. That’s why we are trying to help them," he said.

"If there is escalating fighting in the area, we will probably have to postpone the donation trip," he said, adding that at least two other villages in the township were facing similar situation.

There have been reports of fighting coming from Rakhine on a daily basis since the Arakan Army launched synchronized attacks on police outposts in January, killing 13 officers.

According to Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement, about 30,000 people displaced by fresh fighting are taking shelter in 114 temporary camps in the six townships of Rakhine state.

Minister Win Myat Aye last week told union parliament that the government provided 1.4 billion kyats ($914,644) worth of rice, food oil, salt and other necessities for displaced villagers over the past eight months.

However, lower house lawmaker Phay Than who represents the Myay Bone township of Rakhine State, asserted that the government’s claim that displaced people were provided with sufficient food was false.

He told Anadolu Agency that fresh fighting displaced at least 60,000 in Rakhine state, referring to data from local non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

Stressing that the government’s spending on helping the displaced people is too low, he said 100 million kyats ($65,000) a month was not enough for a month.

"So the government must help NGOs. That’s the easiest and most effective way to help people in need," he said.

He said there were barriers for NGOs and international NGOs to provide the necessary assistance to displaced people despite there being no official ban imposed by the government.

"If the government doesn’t provide security, how can an NGO provide assistance to refugees?" he asked.

He added: "So the government is not doing enough to help its people."

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