Resilience Required as Reeling Regime Sets Its Sights on Civilians

After Myanmar’s military regime lost control of nine towns in Arakan State and Chin State’s Paletwa, it began to oppress not only local people in Arakan State, but also Arakanese people in mainland Myanmar.

By Admin 05 Apr 2024

Junta airstrike kills five civilians, injures nine in AA-controlled Mrauk-U
Junta airstrike kills five civilians, injures nine in AA-controlled Mrauk-U

Written by Min Tun

Fresh fighting broke out in Arakan State on November 13, 2023, with the Arakan Army (AA) launching attacks on border guard police outposts in Rathedaung Township’s Donepike and Cheinkali villages.

In the months since, the AA has seized hundreds of junta positions as well as large swaths of Pauktaw, Rathedaung, Ponnagyun, Kyauktaw, Mrauk-U, Minbya, Myebon and Ramree townships, and Paletwa Township in neighbouring Chin State. The AA has said it is trying to seize all the remaining junta bases that have refused to surrender.

Faced with mounting defeats, the regime has vented its anger on civilians, targeting residential areas with bombs and inciting racial tensions with its words and actions.

Targeting Civilians

Having lost town after town and base after base in Arakan State, the regime has been conducting indiscriminate air and artillery attacks on residential areas, destroying and damaging houses, religious buildings, healthcare facilities and schools. People have been living in fear.

“We are in constant fear that we will be bombed when junta aircraft come. Our lives are at risk,” said a female resident of Mrauk-U.

Junta strikes have caused civilian casualties daily in Arakan State. Hundreds of civilians were killed or injured in Sittwe, Pauktaw, Ponnagyun, Mrauk-U, Minbya, Myebon, Kyaukphyu and Ramree townships last month alone.

In its statement on March 25, the AA said “the regime is committing violence, war crimes and crimes against humanity daily.” The regime has been conducting air raids on towns and villages seized by the AA. “In my opinion, those air raids are intended to deter the AA from doing rehabilitation works, as well as instil fear in people who support the AA,” said a social activist from Arakan State.

Arakanese people are suffering from growing concerns and distress due to armed conflicts and the junta’s airstrikes and mortar shelling, said the United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA).

The regime blockaded roads and waterways as soon as the fighting broke out, which resulted in serious shortages and price hikes on essential commodities including food, fuel and pharmaceuticals.

The regime arrested Arakanese residents for ransom, accusing them of having ties to the AA. It also imposed travel restrictions on local charities and international humanitarian agencies. Hundreds of thousands of displaced people are facing serious food shortages.

“We have been forced to leave our homes, but food is more important than shelter now. We are expecting assistance from any organisation so that we can survive,” said a displaced woman from Pauktaw town.

The number of people displaced by armed conflict has hit more than 300,000 in Arakan State, according to a recent UNOCHA report.

Displaced people urgently need food and shelter, said the vice chairwoman of the Ponnagyun Youth Association, Ma Hnin Thazin Hlaing.

“Many families are going hungry. Starving families have to go from door to door to beg for food,” she said.

Racial Oppression

After Myanmar’s military regime lost control of nine towns in Arakan State and Chin State’s Paletwa, it began to oppress not only local people in Arakan State, but also Arakanese people in mainland Myanmar. The military regime has recently issued instructions to passenger bus lines and travel agencies, prohibiting the sale of tickets to national identification cards (NICs) specifically coded for Arakan State, with the code number (11/xxxxxx).

The military regime sent instructional letters to passenger bus lines and travel agencies on March 18, prohibiting the sale of tickets to Arakan State ID card holders and banning them from travelling from one place to another.

“During this period, there were many people who came from Arakan State to Yangon to avoid the fighting. As for them, they came to Yangon to escape for a while, so they don’t have a job. Now it is not convenient for them to return to Arakan State, so they are quite afraid,” explains an Arakanese man in Yangon.

The regime’s travel restrictions on Arakanese people also violate civil rights and it will create a racial conflict, said Arakanese politician U Pe Than. The regime’s travel restrictions are a kind of ethnic suppression of the Arakanese people. The regime hates the Arakanese people and dislikes the United League of Arakan (ULA). When the regime is facing defeat militarily, it will create a racial conflict, he added.

Incitement and Agitation

Myanmar’s military is attempting to cause racial conflicts between Arakanese and Muslim communities in Arakan State by abusing Muslim people. The regime has forcibly conscripted Muslims to fight the AA, and also forced them to stage protests against the AA, which enjoys popular support among the Arakanese people.

The military regime orchestrated a protest against the AA in Arakan State, which took place in the state capital Sittwe on March 21, with hundreds of Muslims joining the demonstration. Muslim protesters took to the streets holding placards that read “We don’t want AA”, “We don’t want war”, “Let’s protect Sittwe” and “We don’t want the National Unity Government and AA that are undermining peace and stability of the country”.

Hundreds of Muslims took to the streets in Buthidaung two days earlier, holding placards that read “We don’t want AA”, “We don’t want fighting” and “Let’s protect Buthidaung.”

According to the Muslim community, these protests were caused by the regime’s coercion and intimidation.

“The Muslims who protested were orchestrated by the military regime. They were the protesters because the military regime forced them to protest. The protests are creating a conflict between the two ethnic groups, Arakanese and Muslims,” said a Muslim cleric in Buthidaung.

The AA has warned Arakan State residents about the political snare of the military regime, alleging that the regime is attempting to foment racial and religious strife after losing ground in Arakan State.

Nay San Lwin, founder of the Free Rohingya Coalition, said: “Local Rohingya (Muslims) said they are concerned that their Arakanese brethren would misunderstand them, and that it would result in tensions.”

The ethnic Arakanese armed group issued a statement on March 25, accusing the regime of forcing Muslims to stage protests to distract attention from its military defeats. Junta spokesman Maj-Gen Zaw Min Tun could not be reached for comment regarding the matter.

The regime has been forcibly conscripting Muslims in Buthidaung, Maungdaw, Sittwe, and Kyaukphyu townships and sending them to the front line, forcing many Muslims to go into hiding.

A politician in Arakan State said that in order to be completely free from the oppression of the regime, it is necessary to root out the dictatorship, and in the meantime, it is important for the people of Arakan State to endure and overcome the difficulties.