By NAN LWIN HNIN PWINT 30 March 2020
YANGON—The Arakan Army (AA) looted part of a shipment of 100 sacks of rice intended for more than 1,700 displaced Chin villagers in Paletwa Township on Sunday, but returned most of it after media reports about the incident were published, according to the Chin State government.
AA fighters stopped a truck transporting the rice from Samee to Paletwa, where it was to be supplied to 1,771 displaced people on Sunday morning. The shipment was arranged by a community-based committee in Paletwa that is working to bring extra food into the township.
The rice was bought by the Chin State government and local civil society organizations for displaced persons in Paletwa some two months ago, but clashes delayed delivery.
The fighting between the AA and the Myanmar military (or Tatmadaw) has displaced thousands of Paletwa Township villagers; a total of 1,771 are now sheltering in Paletwa town, and 2,945 are in Samee town, also in Chin State.
After the committee lost contact with the three men who were in the truck bringing the rice to Paletwa, Chin State Minister of Municipal Affairs, Electricity and Industry U Soe Htet told The Irrawaddy on Sunday that the AA had stolen the rice.
According to committee chairman U Sein Tun Hla, the AA phoned him at around 2 p.m. the same day and asked him whether the rice was really intended for civilians. He said the AA called him back in the evening and asked him to sell 20 bags of rice to AA members in the area, who are also struggling to pay for food at current prices, which have risen sharply this year due to the fighting in the area. He said he agreed to the request.
However, the AA members did not pay for the 20 bags of rice up front, saying they would contact the committee and pay for it later, he said.
The AA then allowed the three men to pass, along with the truck and 80 bags of rice at around 5.30 p.m. They arrived in Paletwa on Monday morning.
U Soe Htet, the Chin State minister, told The Irrawaddy on Monday that the AA at first drove the rice truck into the forest. Later, after the media started reporting on the incident, the armed group said it only did so in order to question the drivers.
“The transport committee and displaced people are so happy that they can keep bags of rice, so they don’t blame the AA for taking some. We are satisfied, whether or not they pay [for the rice]. We are happy that some [food] can be transported now; none could be transported previously,” U Soe Htet said.
Fierce clashes have been going on between the Myanmar military and the AA since Feb. 5 along the Kalandan River in Paletwa and Rakhine State’s Kyauktaw Township, effectively blocking food supplies to Paletwa.
“We ran out of rice in February. The price of rice even went up to 100,000 kyats [about US$72] per bag. But we could not afford it. We are hoping for some aid. We are suffering a severe food shortage. I would like to appeal to both sides, because we are experiencing real hardship,” said U Kyaw Kyaw, who is sheltering along with some 500 displaced persons in Meeza Village in Paletwa.
On March 23, the Myanmar government declared the AA a terrorist group and an unlawful association, saying its actions pose risks to the public and disrupt law and order, peace and the stability of the country. The AA has said it is fighting for self-determination and autonomy for Rakhine people.
The Central Committee for Counterterrorism also declared the AA a terrorist group, and the Tatmadaw has said it would take legal action against anyone who has ties to the group, under the Counterterrorism Law.
Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko