Arakan Army forcing villagers suffering food shortages to sell rice at low prices, say civil society groups 

The Arakan Army (AA) has been accused of forcing villagers in Chin state to sell their rice to its soldiers at well below market rates amid shortages of rations caused by road closures in the conflict-ridden area. 

Households from five villages from the Ngasha village tract in northern Paletwa were forced to hand over about 64kg of rice each, the Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO) said last week. 

The AA paid 40,000 kyat per bag even though the current market price is 75,000 kyat, said Tay Ra, the group’s information officer. 

“Forcibly having the public do something with the power of weapons is not something a revolutionary group should do,” he said.

The AA also bought 60 bags each from the Kone Tauk and Shin Ma Dein village tracts, he added.

And on October 6 soldiers from the AA arrived in the Lower Balai village tract and demanded 120 bags of rice, said Kyaw Aung of the Chin State Investment Committee (CSIC), a civil society group. 

They said the rice could be given in installments, and villagers handed over the first batch on October 19 for 40,000 kyat per bag, he added. 

A resident from the area who asked to remain anonymous said the villagers only sold the AA the rice because they feared retaliation if they refused. They are now worried they could face shortages of rations in the future, the villagers added. 

The villages from which the AA is buying rice at depressed prices are about 30 miles north of Paletwa, or five hours away by boat. That area is mostly controlled by the AA, civil society groups said. 

Myanmar Now was unable to reach the AA for comment.

An aid delivery of 1,700 bags of rice arrived in Paletwa on October 13 and was distributed among camps for internally displaced people as well as some villages, said Mai Nan Wai from the Relief and Rehabilitation Committee for Chin IDPs (RRCCI).

Some of that rice has been bought by the AA at depressed prices.

“Just because the villages received rice doesn’t mean it’s enough for the entire year,” she said. “Only about 20 out of 50 households in a village do farming.”

Paletwa was plunged into conflict in March this year when the AA attacked a Tatmadaw base at Mee Wa hill, between Kyauktaw and Paletwa. Since then travel along the section of the Kaladan river and roads connecting the two towns have been blocked.

More than 4,300 bags of rice that the government sent for displaced people and others in Paletwa have been stuck in Kyauktaw and Sittwe for nine months, and some of the rice has gone bad, said Soe Htet, a Chin government spokesperson.

Another 2,000 bags of rice are stranded in Samee, he added, because roads are either closed completely or travel along them is not safe. 

More than 60,000 people are facing food shortages in Paletwa because of the disruption to transport links, according to the RRCCI.

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