International aid that arrived in the Chin State town of Mindat on Monday did not reach many in need due to restrictions imposed by the military, according to sources in the area.
The aid, which was provided by the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR, was only distributed in camps under the control of the military, local sources told Myanmar Now.
“The distribution started today. A colonel gave instructions that only families staying at camps should receive aid, so we could only distribute to them,” said a member of a local team involved in negotiations with the military.
A ceasefire has been in place in Mindat since June 23, when the military and the People’s Defence Force (PDF) operating in the area agreed to stop fighting so that some 20,000 civilians displaced by months of fighting could return to the town.
Allowing international aid into the area, which was one of the earliest battle zones in the conflict between the military and anti-coup resistance fighters, was also part of the agreement.
There are currently 10 camps operating with the military’s approval in downtown Mindat. However, most of those who sheltered at these camps have already returned to their homes, while many others outside of the town remain in hiding.
On Tuesday, Myanmar Now was able to confirm that 50 families staying at the Mindat Baptist Church and the Baho monastery in Mindat had received UNHCR aid.
Local relief teams estimate that there are around 9,000 people still in need of food and medical assistance, most of them in rural areas or in the forests near Mindat.
“They didn’t let us go into the woods for ‘security reasons’. I don’t think it will be easy to reach those who are still in the woods or in villages,” said the negotiation team member.
An official working with a committee overseeing the relief effort said that the military was not just imposing arbitrary restrictions, but also actively depriving civilians of needed aid.
“The military council is confiscating any medication they find in the supplies. So we really need medicine for the sick right now,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
He added that under the current conditions, the aid provided by the UNHCR is doing little to help those in greatest need of assistance, who rely mainly on local support for their survival.
On Monday, the UNHCR announced that it had started distributing enough Covid-19 prevention materials, mosquito nets, mats, blankets, kitchenware and solar lamps to supply 5,000 people in the area.
However, sources close to the situation on the ground say that the military’s restrictions mean that much of this aid will not reach its intended recipients.
“We want to distribute the supplies to people in both rural and urban areas. But the authorities have decided that only those in town will get anything. It’s a very sad situation,” said the negotiation team member.
The UNHCR said it planned to meet with religious leaders and other community representatives to learn more about the refugees’ requirements and concerns.
However, it has yet to comment on the issue of restrictions.