Myanmar’s military regime has isolated Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine State in western Myanmar, for over one week now, and the blockade is taking a heavy toll on residents and many people across Rakhine, said Sittwe locals.
Sittwe was blocked off by the junta after a November 10 attack on a Myanmar military convoy traveling the Sittwe-Ponnagyun road some 15 miles from Sittwe, said residents.
“It has been more than one week since the town was blockaded. Food prices are rising. Residents can’t leave the town and people from other parts of Rakhine can’t enter the town. I can’t imagine what will happen if this situation goes on,” one Sittwe resident told The Irrawaddy.
Isolating Sittwe, the commercial and transport hub of Rakhine State, is making life increasingly difficult for residents elsewhere in Rakhine, who are now facing shortages of consumer goods, including food and pharmaceuticals, even as prices rise.
One grocery store owner from Buthidaung in northern Rakhine said: “Previously, I placed orders with Sittwe by phone. We can order nothing now as the roads and waterways are blocked off. The price of rice has now increased from 45,000 kyats per sack to 150,000 kyats per sack in Buthidaung.”
Prices are also soaring in Sittwe as well, according to residents.
The road into Sittwe is blocked off by a junta checkpoint near the long distance bus terminal overseen by a military police battalion. Teachers from Sittwe who work at schools in the military’s cantonment are also not allowed past the checkpoint, said sources in the cantonment.
A wife of a junta soldier based in Sittwe told The Irrawaddy: “I heard that the road is still blocked off by the military police battalion. Children haven’t been able to go to school for around one week as teachers from the town can’t get through the checkpoint.”
The wife of another junta soldier from a signals unit said soldiers’ wives from all the infantry and light infantry battalions under the Sittwe Regional Operations Command, as well as combat support units like logistics, medical and signal units, have been forced to serve as sentries and guard the cantonment at night.
A manager of a bus line at the Sittwe long distance bus terminal said: “The military has blocked access to the Sittwe-Ponnagyun road, but vehicles can travel on other roads between Kyauktaw, Mrauk-U, Minbya and Ann.”
Since renewed fighting broke out in August between the Myanmar military and the ethnic Rakhine Arakan Army (AA), the regime has blocked off roads and waterways in Buthidaung, Maungdaw, and Rathedaung townships in northern Rakhine, as well as neighboring Paletwa Township in Chin State. It has also imposed a ban on the supply of cement, fertilizer and medicines for no reason.
Pharmaceutical prices have therefore shot up in those areas, with stocks running low in pharmacies, public hospitals and rural healthcare facilities.
Amid the food shortages, residents from Rathedaung and Pauktaw travelled by boat to Sittwe on November 12 to buy food. They were stopped by a junta checkpoint at the border of Sittwe and Ponnagyun townships and nine boatmen are still under detention.
Ethnic analysts with extensive knowledge of Rakhine State said the AA has control of much of rural Rakhine, while the military regime controls towns.