A Burmese army offensive against the Arakan Army has forced hundreds of villagers in northern Arakan State to flee their homes in the past week, according to local sources.
Since the fighting started on 17 April, 257 villagers from 59 households living near the border between Buthidaung and Rathedaung townships have taken shelter in the village of Sitaung in Buthidaung, the sources said.
Some of the displaced villagers said that relatives had been forced to serve as porters for the Burmese army.
“My father and mother were clearing a field when my father and three other people were taken into army custody to act as porters,” said Tun Naing Soe, from the village of Ye Soe Chaung.
“I don’t know which regiment it was, because there are so many army columns going around here. But they were working in a field at Barputaung field.”
Many villagers in the area make a living by clearing tracts of forest to grow crops and by collecting firewood, sometimes putting them in the way of government troops pursuing the Arakan Army.
“I just want the fighting to stop,” said Tun Naing Soe. “I want them to release my father and the other people. The fighting is making life here very difficult.”
Many of the war refugees are in need of food, he said.
Meanwhile, displaced villagers from the Pe Chaung area in Kyauktaw Township who fled fighting at the end of last year and in early 2016 are also said to be facing food shortages since local social organizations stopped providing assistance.