Thousands of people have fled their homes in Myanmar’s Western State of Rakhine, as local officials warned them that the army was preparing “clearance operations” in the region, in what was quickly reminiscent of 2017-18 operations that led to attempted genocide against Rohingya Muslims in the region.
Citing a lawmaker and a humanitarian group, Reuters reported Sunday that a local administrator had warned village leaders in a letter on Wednesday that the army was planning “clearance operations” against “terrorists.”
“While this is being done, if the fighting occurs with AA militants, don’t stay at the villages but move out temporarily,” it said, referring to the Arakan Army — a group from the largely Buddhist Rakhine ethnic group that seeks greater autonomy for the western region.
Colonel Min Than, Rakhine State’s border affairs and security minister, verified the letter to Reuters.
The letter did not specify where the order came from, but Min Than said it was an instruction from his ministry — one of three Myanmar government ministries controlled by the army.
He said that the administrator had misinterpreted the order from his ministry and that the operations would only take place in a few villages, not the dozens mentioned in the letter.
The UK-based rights group Burma Human Rights Network said the residents of 39 villages had begun to flee since the order was issued in Kyauktan on Wednesday, citing local sources.
Journalists are barred from most of Rakhine State, and the government has imposed an internet shutdown on most of the region, making information difficult to verify.
Zaw Zaw Htun, the Secretary of the Rakhine Ethnic Congress, a humanitarian group, said at least 1,700 had fled to the neighboring Ponnagyun Township.
Another 1,400 are sheltering in a nearby village and are in dire need of food and other supplies, said regional parliamentarian Oo Than Naing from Rathedaung Township.
Min Than, the border affairs and security minister, said 80 people had fled Kyauktan to elsewhere in Rathedaung.
He also said the operations could last up to a week and “those who remain will be those who are loyal to the AA.”
On Saturday, Government Spokesman Zaw Htay said in a statement on Facebook that the army had been instructed not to use the term “clearance operations,” which was used back in 2017 to describe operations against Rakhine’s Rohingya Muslims.