Myanmar military cutting off vital maritime lifelines in northern Rakhine State

Myanmar’s military has moved to tighten its control over northern Rakhine State in recent weeks by severing maritime links between major towns, according to local sources.

Residents have reported that most ferry services have been suspended throughout the state since late last month, amid serious clashes between junta forces and the Arakan Army (AA).

Travel via inland waterways has been banned in almost the entirety of Rakhine State since October 19, but many areas began to see new restrictions being put in place in mid-August, as fighting between the military and the AA started to heat up.

Coastal and river routes are the only way to access many parts of the state, especially in the north.

At least 18 people, including ferry owners, have been arrested on various charges, including violations of the Unlawful Associations Act and the Inland Vessel Law, in connection with the regime’s restrictions on marine transport, sources said.

Since September, a total of 13 ferries have been seized in Sittwe, Ponnagyun and Pauktaw townships, sources in those areas told Myanmar Now.

Last Friday, around 20 junta personnel, including soldiers and police, opened fire on a ferry carrying passengers and cargo from Sittwe to Buthidaung and arrested everyone on board, according to locals.

While the ferry’s 16 passengers were later released, its captain was charged under Section 43 of the Inland Vessel Law, sources said.

The following day, another ferry was reportedly seized near the main port in the town of Myebon. Three people were arrested, but later released.

The Yae Chan Pyin Port in Sittwe, the state capital, has also been declared off-limits, despite serving as a key link between the city and the towns of Rathedaung, Buthidaung and Maungdaw.

There have also been reports of arrests being made at other locations, such as at a bridge near the village of Amyintgyun, where the crew of a ferry was recently caught illegally loading and unloading cargo due to the closure of the nearest port.

Nine ferry owners were arrested in the same area on October 12 and charged under the Inland Vessel Law. Two were also accused of having ties to the AA, which is an offence under the Unlawful Associations Act.

“A couple of them admitted to paying taxes [to the AA], so they were hit with extra charges,” said one local who did not want to be named.

A number of roads have also been closed, including the one linking Minbya and Myebon, which has been blocked since October 2.

Currently, the only ferry service allowed to operate in the state is the one run by the Shwe Pyi Tan ferry company, which carries passengers from Taungup to Sittwe via Munaung, Yanbye and Kyaukphyu.

Some communities have reported a growing scarcity of medicine and other essential supplies since the restrictions on marine travel were put in place.

On September 27, a medical officer in Myebon was arrested and questioned for a week in connection with the seizure of a ferry that was found to be carrying medication for the town’s regional hospital. Three others were also detained in that case.

Meanwhile, local fishermen say they also risk being targeted, especially if they take their boats out at night.

“Being unable to fish at night for such a long time is harming our livelihoods. They should at least have some sympathy for the hardships of honest civilians,” said one Sittwe fisherman.

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