Thousands in western Myanmar flee as army plans operations, monitors say
Rakhine: Thousands of villagers have fled their homes in Myanmar’s Rakhine state after a local administrator warned dozens of village leaders that the army planned “clearance operations” against insurgents, a lawmaker and a humanitarian group said.
But a government spokesman said late on Saturday an evacuation order issued by border-affairs officials had been revoked. Border affairs acknowledged issuing the order through the local administrator but said it affected fewer villages.
The warning to the village leaders came in a letter written on Wednesday, which was seen by Reuters and verified by a state government minister, Colonel Min Than.
The letter, signed by the administrator of Rathedaung township, Aung Myint Thein, told village leaders he had been informed the operations were planned in the township’s Kyauktan village and nearby areas suspected of harbouring insurgents.
The letter does not specify where the order came from, but Min Than, Rakhine state’s border affairs and security minister, told Reuters it was an instruction from his border affairs ministry, one of three Myanmar government ministries controlled by the army.
“Clearance operation will be done by forces in those villages,” the letter from the administrator said.
“While this is being done, if the fighting occurs with AA terrorists, don’t stay at the villages but move out temporarily,” it said, referring to the Arakan Army, the name of the Rakhine state insurgents.
The administrator could not be reached for comment by Reuters.
Min Than said the “clearance operation” described in the letter referred to military operations targeting “terrorists.”
He said the administrator had misinterpreted the order from his ministry and that the operations would only take place in a few villages, not the dozens mentioned, but confirmed other details.
The operations could last up to a week, Min Than said by phone, adding that “those who remain will be those who are loyal to the AA.”
On Saturday, government spokesman Zaw Htay said in a statement on Facebook the government had instructed the military not to use the term “clearance operations”. He also said the letter ordering people to flee had been revoked.
He did not answer phone calls from Reuters seeking further comment. Reuters did not see the revocation instructions.
This year the Myanmar army has been fighting the AA, a group from the largely Buddhist Rakhine ethnic group that is seeking greater autonomy for the western region, also known as Arakan. – Reuters