DVB Multimedia Group

One year on, Arakanese IDPs still in limbo

IDPs in Sechaung, Arakan State. February 2017. (PHOTO: DVB)

Some 500 Buddhist men, women and children from Buthidaung, who were displaced by fighting between Burma’s government forces and the Arakan Army (AA) nearly a year ago, are still unable to return home and rebuild their lives due to the instability in the area.

Around 420 internally displaced persons, or IDPs, remain camped in makeshift homes in the village of Sedaung, but they said recently that local landowners have asked them to vacate the site to make way for the upcoming sowing season.

Speaking to DVB, an IDP named Shwe Thein said, “The landowners don’t want us hanging around any longer. We begged them to let us stay here for a while. If we get evicted, we will need to find new land to settle on and assistance to build new homes.”

The Buthidaung families have until now had to rely on donations from local civic groups and sympathisers, however, according to IDP Oo Ma Sein, 65, that humanitarian aid has dried up since violence broke out in Maungdaw in October.

“We were doing OK until the aid stopped. But now we are really struggling,” said Oo Ma Sein.

Meanwhile, another group of 62 ethnic Khami IDPs, who have been sheltering at a Buddhist monastery in the village of Alechaung in Buthidaung Township, say that they do not wish to return to their old homes in Buthidaung town, and have requested permission to start new lives in Alechaung.

However, they say they cannot afford to buy land.

“We don’t want to go back to our old villages – it would be too hard to make a living there now,” said an IDP named Kup Chok.

“We prefer to stay in this village but cannot afford to buy land to build homes on. Right now we are staying inside the monastery compound but we will not be allowed to stay there forever.”

The Khami, or Awa Khami, are an ethnic group related to the Chin peoples, indigenous to southern Chin State and northern Arakan.

Both groups of IDPs were compelled to flee their homes due to fears of being caught in the crossfire of hostilities between the AA and the Burmese Army in April 2016.

DVB reported that fighting had resumed last week between the AA and Burmese units near Buthidaung. No casualties had been reported at the time of press.

In December, the AA claimed it had killed at least 10 Burmese soldiers in a clash near Paletwa, southern Chin State.

Both sides blamed the other for instigating the battles.

Following a series of skirmishes, Burma’s military media in Januray 2016 published a fiery report in which it vowed that the Burmese army would “exterminate” the Arakanese rebel group.

The AA is a member of the Northern Alliance, a coalition of four ethnic armed groups that engaged in hostilities with government forces late last year in northern Burma, where the Arakan Army has received military training and maintains a troop presence.