Lawmakers from the Arakan National Party (ANP) are planning to submit a proposal to parliament urging an immediate end to hostilities between the government military and ethnic armed group the Arakan Army in western Burma.
Khin Saw Wai, an ANP lower house representative from Arakan State’s Rathedaung Township, told DVB the proposal — prompted by the outbreak of fighting on 16 April that has since sent hundreds of villagers fleeing their homes — would be put forward when parliament resumes early next month.
“At the moment, there are heavy clashes taking place in Arakan State. We visited IDP areas on Friday and asked local people for their opinion of the situation. Generally, they just want to live in peace,” said Khin Saw Wai. “The parliament session is set to resume on 2 May and if the hostilities have not yet ceased by then, we will put forward an urgent proposal.”
The ANP, alongside local civil society groups such as the Sittwe-based Arakan New Generation Youth, is currently assisting the IDPs and donating necessary items, said Khin Saw Wai. She added, however, that it would be difficult to continue doing so in the long term.
As of last Friday, there were nearly 500 IDPs taking shelter in Buddhist monasteries and schools in Buthidaung, Rathedaung and Ponnakyun townships, and more were arriving every day, she said.
In addition to sparking a refugee crisis, the Burmese army’s offensive against the Arakan Army has also resulted in cases of forced portering, according to Khin Saw Wai, who said that at least nine villagers had been forcibly recruited to act as guides or porters for government troops.
“The [Burmese army] took four locals in the village of Kyauklanchaung. Only two have been released so far — we met with them — and the other two have not yet returned. Also, the army took five local villagers working in the fishery in Yesoechaung village to serve as guides — the village administrator can confirm this — and none of them have returned,” she said.
Meanwhile, the Arakan Liberation Party (ALP), a signatory to last year’s Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA), has also urged the Burmese army to end its “acts of lawlessness” in Arakan State.
In a statement released on 24 April, the ALP expressed serious concerns about the plight of internally displaced persons (IDPs) facing various “life-threatening situations” as they are forced to flee their homes due to the hostilities.
The ALP also accused the Burmese army of human rights abuses such as forcing local villages to serve as army porters and guides against their will and using them as human shields in combat. It also claimed that the Burmese army was executing AA prisoners of war “barbarically”.
“The IDPs at the moment are living in absolute hardship with regard to food and healthcare,” said Khaing Myo Htun, a spokesperson for the ALP. “To make matters worse, the Burmese army captured some locals as prisoners of war and has executed them on several occasions — we have the evidence.”
The ALP said the ongoing conflict would also be detrimental to the dialogue between the government and ethnic armed groups calling for federalism and self-determination.
The group, formed in 1967, had been fighting the government for decades until it signed a preliminary ceasefire agreement in April 2012. Last year, it became a signatory to the NCA, forged between the government and eight ethnic armed groups.