This July Update tracks a set of indicators drawn from the Rakhine State and Southern Chin State Scenario Plan, published by CASS on 9 April, to document updates and consider implications for the humanitarian response. That scenario plan considered the trajectory of armed conflict in Rakhine State before nationwide elections expected for November 2020, and anticipated the impact of armed conflict for communities and the humanitarian response in western Myanmar, with the objective of facilitating forward-looking programming for humanitarian responders. Please see the Rakhine State and Southern Chin State Scenario Plan for the full consideration of scenarios, conflict trajectories and humanitarian impacts.
Armed conflict in western Myanmar has stabilised throughout July. Armed clashes continued in Rathedaung Township after the Rakhine State Security and Border Affairs Minister ordered the evacuation of villages ahead of ‘clearance operations’. The operations themselves represented more continuity than change, but highlighted the lack of access for international agencies to affected populations. Local responders, however, had ready access, although were short in resources in some locations. Targeted killings and security incidents in urban areas and southern Rakhine State decreased during July, but tensions on the ground were exacerbated in late July by the Arakan Army’s exclusion from the upcoming Union Peace Conference. As such, the trajectory of armed conflict and its impact in Myanmar’s west best reflects one of status quo – as outlined in Scenario Three of the Rakhine State and Southern Chin State Scenario Plan.
There were few documented targeted killings or security incidents in urban areas during July. On 11 July one civilian was killed and another injured by gunfire in downtown Ponnagyun. Two police officers also went missing from urban areas during the period and their fate remains unclear. The few urban incidents and targeted killings represents an outlier in trends of 2019 and 2020, and may have been due to the preoccupation of armed actors in remote areas, as fighting continued in northern Rathedaung and other areas.
Displacement continued to rise in July. Displacement at this time in the agricultural cycle is highly disruptive, as the window for planting monsoon paddy is now closed. Farmers who have been unable to plant due to armed conflict and displacement will likely face future food and financial insecurity, with follow-on impacts to education.
Table 1: Rakhine State government displacement figures
|Township||16 March1||06 April2||05 May||08 June||21 June3||06 July4||25 July5|
Table 2: Displacement in Paletwa, southern Rakhine State
|17 March||10 April||09 June||06 July||16 July|
Table 3. Rakhine Ethnic Congress displacement figures
|Township||01 April7||01 May8||08 June9||07 July10|
Restrictions enforced by the Rakhine State government and military presence continue to present barriers to humanitarian access for both national and international responders.
Dialogue remains stalled. While the Brotherhood Alliance had noted they were ‘fully willing’ to attend the Union Peace Conference scheduled for 19-21 August, the government on 5 August August revealed that the Arakan Army will not be invited, citing legal constraints. As a result, six other ethnic armed groups who have not yet signed the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement have said they will not attend in solidarity. This will raise big questions about the inclusivity of the peace process.
Rohingya communities remain highly vulnerable, with many people trapped under movement restrictions in areas of ongoing active conflict. As discussed below, COVID-19 has not resulted in expected communal tensions, but has meant a harsh government crackdown on individuals returning informally from Bangladesh.
There were no security incidents in southern Rakhine State during July. While the National Security Organisation – Taungup was increasingly active through May and early June, its activity appears to have decreased significantly in July. There has been no public activity on its Facebook page and no further abductions or threats made against political figures in Taungup. CASS will continue to monitor the situation in southern Rakhine State ahead of elections. The political competition between the National League for Democracy and ethnic Rakhine parties is expected to be much closer in the south than in the central and northern areas of the state.
The Chin National Front has again warned the Arakan Army to ‘get out’ of southern Chin State, from where the Arakan Army has set up operations, while rumours continue to spread online regarding the mobilisation of an armed ethnic Chin group to push back against the Arakan Army. Meanwhile, media have continued to conflate the Arakan Army with the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army.
On 1 August, telecommunication operation Telenor announced that the government was permitting operators to re-open 2G mobile internet lines in eight townships of Rakhine and southern Chin states. 2G offers very limited access – with internet browsing, downloading images and video very difficult. Myanmar’s Myanmar Ministry of Transport and Communications had instructed operators to shut down the internet in nine townships on 21 June 2019. The internet connection was reinstated in full only in Maungdaw Township only on 2 May 2020, and remains restricted in all other locations.
While Rakhine State and greater Myanmar has apparently remained largely unaffected by the health impacts of COVID-19, the economic and political impacts continue to impact communities on the ground.
Nationwide general elections remain scheduled for 8 November. Nationwide mobilisation will have implications for the situation in Rakhine State, even if polls in many locations remain unlikely. With few indications of dialogue forming, the conflict can only be expected to continue as the ruling National League for Democracy Party doubles down on national security rhetoric to appeal to its Bamar Buddhist voter base. Humanitarian agencies can expect a continuation of armed conflict, which will impact the main roads and urban areas. Controversy around voting rights for IDPs may also heighten tensions in camp areas.
With the Arakan Army’s absence from the Union Peace Conference now confirmed, tensions between the Arakan Army and Tatmadaw will likely be played out on the battlefield. New displacement has already been reported in Buthidaung and Rathedaung townships since the announcement, and the Arakan Army has also brought violence to urban areas in early August. Humanitarian agencies should recognise the potential for the conflict to escalate post-rainy season (post October), and use this time to prepare. The pre-positioning of aid and development of relationships with both authorities and local humanitarian responders will support greater access. Humanitarian agencies should prepare to respond to communities in Myebon and northern Ann Townships. There, tensions are likely to continue given the presence of armed forces there and Tatmadaw restrictions on movements and the transportation of food. With or without armed clashes, displacement and other impacts including food shortages, movement restrictions, further governance shifts and disruption to livelihoods are likely to follow.