Villagers in Myanmar’s conflict-hit Rakhine state have said they are facing food shortages after being hemmed in for nearly a week by the military, which killed six people and continues to detain scores more in a crackdown against suspected rebels
Thousands of troops have been redeployed to Rakhine state where they are using heavy artillery against the Arakan Army (AA).
The insurgents are fighting for more autonomy for ethnic Rakhine Buddhists in violence that has forced more than 30,000 people from their homes since December.
It is the latest unrest in an area riven by complex ethnic and religious divisions in the Buddhist-majority country.
The same northern part of the state also witnessed the military’s bloody expulsion of some 740,000 Rohingya Muslims in 2017, a campaign UN investigators said amounted to genocide.
Last Tuesday security forces stormed Kyauk Tan village in Rathedaung township, separating out 275 men for interrogation in the local school.
Troops admitted killing six detainees two days later and injuring eight more, claiming the men tried to attack and disarm them.
The village has been completely sealed off since the raid and several residents told AFP by phone on Monday that food supplies were dangerously low.
Those without any land are “really struggling”, one woman told AFP by phone, asking not to be named, adding villagers were pooling their meagre supplies.
Another man confirmed the shortages under the army’s “bullying” tactics and called for the international community’s help.
Rakhine state lawmaker Tin Maung Win told AFP he was “very worried” about the villagers’ plight.
He planned to visit the village Tuesday but was unsure security forces would allow him to enter after they turned him away last week.
Military spokesman Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun denied people were unable to leave.
“People can move around freely,” he said, adding it was possible others could not enter.
Access to the north of Rakhine state is heavily restricted, making independent verification difficult.
Zaw Min Tun confirmed 48 more detainees were released Monday, which would leave around 80 still held at the school.
“They warned us there would be harsh repercussions if we travelled to other villages,” said Than Han Than, 22, one of the newly-released.
Than May Khin’s husband, Khin Maung Htay, was one of the men shot dead last week.
“I cannot forgive his killing,” the 38-year-old widow said.
Their son – one of four – left just before the army operation and did not yet know of his father’s death, she added.
The killings followed the deaths in April of three other ethnic Rakhine men in army custody.
Rights groups have condemned the military’s “total impunity”.