More than 250,000 civilians have seen food supplies cut off by the latest round of violence in northern Arakan State, according to a major UN provider of humanitarian assistance, with hundreds of schools abandoned in the affected region.
Since Muslim militants launched coordinated attacks against more than 20 security outposts across the north of the state in the early hours of Friday morning, over 100 people have been killed.
That casualty count includes 11 members of Burma’s security forces, an immigration officer and dozens of “extremist terrorists,” according to the government, in what amounts to the most dramatic escalation in violence since attacks on police posts by Muslim militants on 9 October sent northern Arakan State reeling.
The renewed clashes prompted a fresh wave of civilians fleeing their homes in search of refuge. Displaced Rohingya Muslims, primarily women and children, have rushed to the Bangladesh border, while ethnic Arakanese Buddhists are converging in nearby Maungdaw town and the Arakan State capital Sittwe to the south.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Bangkok said about 5,200 people were estimated to have crossed the border into Bangladesh from 24-27 August.
Aid workers fear vulnerable populations in northern Arakan State are again bearing the brunt of the hostilities between state security forces and Muslim militants, who have identified themselves as members of the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army.
International humanitarian aid organisations reportedly recalled their nonessential staff from the affected area on Sunday.
The INGOs’ exodus leaves an already underserved population without critical support, according to the UN World Food Programme.
“WFP still has some staff in the Maungdaw, but all WFP food assistance operations in Rakhine [Arakan] State have been suspended affecting 250,000 internally displaced and other most vulnerable populations. We are coordinating with the authorities to resume distributions as soon as possible including for any people newly affected by the current unrest,” said Silke Buhr, Regional Communications Officer for Asia and the Pacific, on Monday.
In excess of 150,000 children in the three townships affected will also go without schooling as the fighting continues. A total of 426 schools across Maungdaw, Buthidaung and Rathedaung townships in northern Arakan State have been shuttered, according to the state’s educational administrator’s office.