Protestors in Rakhine call for removal of military bases so they can return to their village 

About 50 people who were displaced by fighting in Rakhine state staged a protest on Tuesday calling for military bases set up near their village to be removed so they can return home.

The protestors gathered at the Mahar Kan Gyi Shin pagoda in Kyautktaw, where they have been sheltering since fighting broke out between the military and the Arakan Army (AA) at their village of Marlar in March.

They held placards that read, “Remove military stations and stop the expansion of units”; “Give us the freedom to return to our village”, and “Remove the landmines buried near our village”.

While it has been over two months since the fighting stopped in Rakhine – and both sides have begun tentative peace talks – the villagers are scared to return home because soldiers have shot at people who tried to go back to Marlar to collect their belongings, they said. 

Some 800 people lived in Marlar before it was abandoned last year. 

The displaced villagers have been out of work for ten months. San Aye, one of those who fled Marlar, said she and others are struggling for food and clothes and would like to at least make a trip back to collect rations and other supplies from their homes. 

“We can’t go to our village to bring our things, because if they see people come they start shooting,” she told Myanmar Now. 

“The military has a station on the hill at the entrance of the village,” said Nu Nu Sein, another protestor. “So we’re scared to enter; we don’t know what they’re going to do.”

The villagers are also scared of being captured and interrogated by soldiers on suspicion of links to the AA.  

At the end of last month the villagers signed a petition asking to be given permission to return to Marlar to collect rice and other crops as well as their cattle. They submitted it to Rakhine’s chief minister, Nyi Pu, but have heard no response, said Zaw Win, who organised the petition. 

“If we could just get our things that would ease some of the difficulties we have at the camps,” he said. “The state government hasn’t responded to our appeal and that’s why we’re protesting.”

Nyi Pu did not answer calls seeking comment. Myanmar Now was unable to reach a military spokesperson for comment on the villagers’ request. 

Over 200,000 people have been displaced in Rakhine and southern Chin state since the fighting broke out just over two years ago. Since the clashes halted in November, more than 80,000 people have returned to their homes, but many others have remained in crowded displacement camps out of fear the fighting will resume. 

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