Residents of northern Maungdaw Township in Rakhine State are trapped in their villages without food and medicine, as military regime forces continue to block access to the region in western Myanmar.
The blockade has intensified since ethnic Rakhine armed organization the Arakan Army (AA) seized junta outposts following fighting with the military along the Myanmar-Bangladesh border in early August.
A resident of Tamanthar Village told The Irrawaddy: “We have to eat banana plants now. We ran out of cooking oil a long time ago. We can’t flee to Maungdaw Town as the military checkpoint in Kyeinchaung Village won’t let us pass. They are using the four cuts strategy against us.”
The four cuts strategy was first developed by the Myanmar military in the 1960s and used against the Communist Party of Burma and the Karen National Union, Myanmar’s oldest ethnic armed group. The strategy is designed to cut access to food, funding, intelligence and recruits for rebel groups by targeting every village that is thought to have ties with them.
One resident of Nanthartaung Village said: “The military told the abbot of our village monastery that we can go to Maungdaw Town, but it can’t guarantee our safety while traveling. And when vehicles came to take us to town, they were stopped at the checkpoint in Kyeinchaung Village.”
Teachers are also trapped in Nanthartaung Village along with locals. Villagers who fall sick are suffering as there is no medicine and they can’t receive treatment at clinics and hospitals because of the blockade.
The regime has isolated all of northern Maungdaw, blocking all waterways in the area, as well as the roads linking Maungdaw and Rathedaung and Rathedaung and Ponnagyun townships.
Junta forces have also established numerous security checkpoints along the Yangon-Sittwe Road in Sittwe, Ponnagyun, Kyauktaw, Mrauk-U, Minbya, Myebon and Ann townships, and are carrying out tight checks on buses and cargo trucks. Currently, passenger buses are barely operating.
Some villagers were able to flee to Maungdaw Town on August 28 and 29, when the regime briefly opened the security checkpoint at Kyeinchaung Village.
Around 1,000 villagers are now sheltering in Maungdaw Town. With the junta not providing any supplies and a lack of aid donors, town residents are giving them food and shelter, former Maungdaw lawmaker U Maung Ohn told The Irrawaddy.
The AA and the Myanmar military have been clashing since early August along the Myanmar-Bangladesh border in northern Maungdaw.
At least two junta outposts have reportedly been seized by the AA, one at mile post No. 40 on the frontier and another one mile from the border guard police base in Kyeinchaung Village.
Regime forces have also lost five outposts to the AA near the Myanmar-India border in Chin State’s Paletwa Township, which borders northern Rakhine, since early August. Junta soldiers have also withdrawn from some of their outposts in Paletwa Town after being besieged by the AA.