Villagers Say They Are Prisoners of Myanmar’s Army in a Rakhine State Monastery

Myanmar government troops have detained civilians for a week in a monastery in Rakhine state’s Buthidaung township and are preventing them from leaving the community to buy food, villagers and a lawmaker said Tuesday, in the latest roundup of villagers amid the military’s war against the rebel Arakan Army (AA).

About 100 soldiers from the Myanmar Army’s Division No. 22 have been stationed in and around the Kanpyin village monastery since they arrived in the area on July 2, residents said.

Myanmar forces are detaining more than 20 men in the monastery compound and have at times ordered female residents to also gather in the monastery under the guise of protecting the villagers, they added.

The troops are questioning the men about the presence of AA soldiers in the area and whether they have any connections to them, they said. Soldiers have divided the men into three groups so they can take turns going home and returning to the monastery.

Aung Thaung Shwe, an ethnic Rakhine lawmaker who represents Buthidaung township in Myanmar’s lower house of parliament, said that soldiers have remained in the village though they have finished questioning residents.

They have completed the interrogations that they needed to do, he told RFA’s Myanmar Service. It has been a week. They were supposed to leave the village after they got what they wanted.

They are doing this on purpose, and this is a human rights violation, he added, saying that he fears this may lead to incidents like the deadly shooting that occurred in Kyauktan village in neighboring Rathedaung township.

In May, Myanmar soldiers detained nearly 300 Kyauktan residents in a school compound to interrogate them about possible connections to a nearby AA training camp.

The military said the soldiers had to open fire when some of the detainees tried to attack the guards, but other witnesses said the chaos broke out when a mentally disturbed man started yelling.

The incident left six detainees dead and eight wounded, two of whom later died of their injuries.

It is really critical to report the truth of what is happening and what the military is doing, Aung Thaung Shwe said. If the people don’t know what is happening, they [Myanmar soldiers] might keep committing the violations and creating unnecessary problems.

Myanmar military spokesman Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun denied the presence of troops in and around Kanpyin village and said that soldiers were not detaining any locals.

It is not true. There is no such thing, he told RFA.

RFA could not independently confirm the report that Myanmar soldiers are holding more than 20 locals in the Kanpyin village monastery.

Food shortages

One Kanpyin resident who requested anonymity out of fear of retaliation by soldiers, said the village’s 300 residents from more than 50 households now face shortages of rice and food supplies because no one is allowed to leave the community.

Now the villagers are pretty terrified, the resident told RFA. We have a food shortage. We have lots of hardships. Some people are starving.

We are not allowed to go out even to buy food supplies and milk powder for babies, the person said. They told us we may go the next day. We just want to avoid trouble and live freely.

Aung Thaung Shwe said officials have asked the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to help relieve food shortages in Kanpyin, which sits near a roadway connecting Buthidaung with Rathedaung township.

Armed conflicts between the government military and the AA have raged in the area since late last year, forcing residents to seek refuge in nearby communities, villagers said.

More than 40 people who had fled previous hostilities returned to the village for farm work in June, but must now stay there because of the Myanmar military’s restrictions on residents, they said.

But those who are still temporarily living in nearby communities are afraid to return to Kanpyin, said another resident who declined to be named out of fear of retribution by Myanmar Army soldiers.

The remaining villagers don’t want to return to the village, the person said. They are too scared, because even the villagers who remained in the village are not allowed to leave. If they return, they might be detained or taken away.

The villager also said that soldiers had seized the mobile phones of Kanpyin residents, and on Tuesday morning, had ordered all men and women from the village to gather in a single area while their homes were searched.

Resident Hla Soe said a gold ring and 100,000 kyats (U.S. $63) were missing from her home after soldiers searched it.

Soldiers on Tuesday sent three civilians to nearby Si Taung village to buy rice and food supplies, though they are too afraid of being detained if they to return to the village, residents said.

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