Soldiers from the Arakan Army (AA) forcibly seized more than 150 bags of rice from a boat carrying goods and passengers on the Kaladan River in southern Chin State’s Paletwa Township on Monday.
The incident occurred in Paletwa’s Tarun-ai village tract as the boat was approaching the village of Kyaelay. According to witnesses, the AA troops fired their guns several times to get the boat to stop so they could take the rice and other supplies.
The motorboat was carrying rice and other foodstuffs, as well as 19 passengers, including four schoolteachers and three Christian pastors.
“They tried to stop our boat by opening fire three times before we reached Kyaelay,” said Naing Naing, a passenger who spoke to Khonumthung News.
“We stopped on the riverbank, and then they forced us to take everything out of the boat. They took everything they wanted and gave the rest back to us. They didn’t want snacks, but they took all of the rice, salt, fish paste, coffee mix and cooking oil that we had aboard, as well as alcohol,” he said.
“We were really afraid of them,” he said of the soldiers, before adding that none of the passengers were threatened with violence. They were, however, detained for one night before being released on Tuesday morning.
The Burma Army has been using its “four cuts” strategy against the AA since early May in an effort to deprive the group of essential supplies. To this end, it now requires Paletwa residents to show letters of recommendation from township authorities before allowing them to transport rice.
According to an AA spokesperson, the seized rice and other foodstuffs were intended for the Burma Army and not local civilians.
“We had clashes with the Burma Army in this area in May that killed many Burmese soldiers. Since then, they have been using civilian motorboats to transport food rations. For security reasons, we have to inspect these boats and seize all goods being shipped to the Burma Army,” AA spokesperson Khaing Thukha told Khonumthung News.
“No civilian boat is allowed to carry more than five bags of rice. For more than this, you must have a recommendation letter from the township administration authorities and the Burma Army’s strategic commander. So it is impossible for normal civilians to carry more than 100 rice bags in Paletwa Township,” he added.
Others say the whole episode was an elaborate ruse intended to circumvent the Burma Army’s efforts to cut supply lines to the AA. “The motorboat owner is an ethnic Rakhine. What I think is that they are sending rice bags and food rations to AA forces. It’s like they are providing assistance to the AA,” a member of the Paletwa Social Volunteer Team told Khonumthung News.