With both roads and waterways blocked between Kyauktaw in Rakhine State and Paletwa in Chin State, locals in Paletwa are facing severe shortages of rice, cooking oil and salt. Khonumthung News has learned that Burma Army military columns in the area have blocked the arrival of rice to waiting civilians and are selling it at up to three times the market price.
Unable to get supplies from Kyauktaw since February, locals from five village tracts in Paletwa set out to buy rice in Lailinpi town in Chin State’s Matupi Township recently. The route to Lailinpi passes Shinletwa, where the Burma Army’s LID-77 is based. The locals said that the soldiers there forbid them from buying and bringing back rice and ordered that all rice be purchased from them.
“We had to report to LID-77. We told them that we’re going to buy rice. The soldiers told us that they wouldn’t allow us to go and buy the bags of rice,” a villager in the area told Khonumthung News. “They told us to buy bags of rice in Shinletwa. We didn’t buy the bags of rice there because they were really overpriced.”
The villager said that the rice being sold by the soldiers cost more than 60,000 kyats (US$42) per bag. In Lailinpi, the cost is just over 20,000 kyat, and in Paletwa, if it is available, it is 30,000 kyat ($21). With this in mind, locals have tried to get permission to get their basic supplies from Lailinpi.
“The Burma Army troops based in Shinletwa and Htaronai villages are doing business. If they allow us to travel to buy rice in Lailinpi, it will impact their business. Nobody will buy their rice from them. That’s why they are not allowing us to go and buy rice in another township,” another villager explained.
A Shinletwa villager who spoke to Khonumthung News on the condition of anonymity said that the Burma Army soldiers in the area sell rice, cooking oil, salt and gasoline to villagers, all at increased rates.
“Rice is 62,000 kyat per bag. Gasoline is 8,000 to 10,000 kyat ($5.70-7.00) per gallon. They have told other sellers not to sell gasoline at 6,000 kyats per gallon. That’s why we have a lot of trouble,” the villager said. “I thought that the army was supposed to protect the people, not do business.”
The Chin State government’s municipal minister and spokesperson Soe Htet told Khonumthung News that the situation was “very complicated.”
He said that the government troops are concerned that rice brought into the area will go to the Arakan Army (AA), with whom the Burma Army has been engaged in intense clashes. He also said that locals who buy their rice in Lailinpi may be selling it at higher prices in Paletwa—up to 70,000 to 80,000 kyat per bag.
“If people bring rice from other regions, the rice may go into the hands of the AA,” Soe Htet said. Of the villagers trying to get rice in neighboring townships, he added, “They are also making business and making profits. The army knows about it… If local people are going to bring rice for themselves—not to sell—we will request travel permission for them from the army. The army has accused these villagers of doing business and making profits. The army also wants extra rations.”
Soe Htet said that the government has been trying to send food rations to Paletwa by using the Matupi-Sami-Paletwa road but has been unable to complete the journey between Sami and Paletwa due to increased security measures.
The road between Lailinpi and Shinletwa was an “emergency road” built by the government but trucks are now allowed to use it.
The government will be distributing rice donations around Shinletwa, Soe Htet added.