Northern Rakhine: What we know on the ground

Frontier was able to reach downtown Buthidaung on Monday evening, and senior reporter Mratt Kyaw Thu gives an update on the current situation.

By MRATT KYAW THU | FRONTIER

BUTHIDAUNG, Rakhine State — Maungdaw is under attack, or so it seems. But given a lack of access to the areas affected by the recent violence, it is proving difficult to establish exactly what is happening. Rumours have spread on social media that “Maungdaw has fallen”, while local residents have said that the town has been besieged by the Arakan Rohingya Solidarity Army, which the government has declared as an official “terrorist group”.

But authorities have a different version of events. On August 27, Rakhine State Chief Minister U Nyi Pu and Union Minister for Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement U Win Myat Aye told reporters that Maungdaw is “under control”, but their visit was brief and they were unable to visit the entire area.

Tatmadaw divisions 99 and 33 arrived in the area after the attacks on the night of August 24 and launched “clearance operations” in Maungdaw and the surrounding Mayu mountain range, while the Border Guard Police and other police battalions have taken charge across the township.

According to residents, combined security forces are present in Maungdaw, and residents are lying-low in their houses. Those living on the outskirts of the town have fled to the neighbouring township of Buthidaung, and some to the state capital of Sittwe.

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The situation on the road between Buthidaung and Maungdaw appears to have calmed, sources say, but beyond downtown Maungdaw towards the BGP command centre at Taung Pyo, it is more precarious. There are reports that land-mines have been laid along that road.

One indication of the fear present in Maungdaw is the fact that several workers from international agencies have been evacuated to Sittwe. Security forces guarded the aid workers, while dozens of cars belonging to civilians could be seen plying the road towards Buthidaung.

There are three checkpoints along the road from Buthidaung to Maungdaw, and the one located 3 miles from Maungdaw is the largest. It is close to Myo Thu Gyi village, which has seen intense fighting since August 24.

Tensions are palpable. Journalists on the ground dare not try to interview ethnic Rakhine as feelings are running high and many nationalists have taken to social media to accuse media personnel of taking sides with the state’s Muslim population. It is also currently impossible to interview and meet with Muslim villagers.

Currently, Frontier understands that the only food is being supplied by the Rakhine State government and is being distributed by Tatmadaw forces.

On the river that connects Sittwe with Buthidaung, a journey that takes about five hours, life goes on relatively normally and members of all communities are still going about their daily routines.

The situation is different in Maungdaw, however, where there are still reports of gunshots and mortar shelling around the downtown area, and about 200 people are currently sheltering in Buthidaung Township.

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