Unless the Union government is able to ensure security in Paletwa Township, it will be impossible to continue the Kaladan Multi-modal Transit Transport Project, the Chin State government has said.
The project, which is a US$500 million joint initiative between the Burmese and Indian governments, intends to connect the Indian city of Kolkata with a seaport in Sittwe, Rakhine State by building a highway and using the Kaladan River as a waterway.
However, clashes between the Burma Army and Arakan Army are escalating in Paletwa Township. A 12-wheel truck was set on fire by an unidentified armed group on the Pakkoku-Mindat-Matupi road on February 29. The truck had been carrying fuel, rice, cooking oil and salt for those working on a road construction between Paletwa in Chin State and Zorinpwi in India’s Mizoram State. The construction was part of the Kaladan project.
“We haven’t gotten any report about it,” Arakan Army spokesperson Khaing Thukha told Khonumthung News, referring to the burning of the truck. “This is a war zone. We have repeatedly reported that if somebody wants to bring something [into the area], they must report it to use. If they don’t report it to us, then our ground forces will check for security reasons.”
Road construction between India and Chin State was scheduled to be completed by May 2020, but Chin State government spokesperson Soe Htet has said that the Paletwa-Zorinpwi section will not meet this deadline.
“We cannot move forward with the project if the Union government cannot take care of the security for it,” he told Khonumthung News. “As the state government, we don’t have any power to do it.”
Due to the ongoing conflict, the waterway between Paletwa and Kyauktaw Township in Rakhine State has been closed to travel, trade, and the transport of goods. Locals are facing food shortages as a result, and the supply of diesel in Paletwa has almost run out, causing the town’s electricity supply to be cut off.
Khumi Affairs Coordination Council chair Kyaw Nyein said that the problem must be solved by the government.
“The diesel will almost be gone within one to two days. I think that the Chin State government has a responsibility to help solve these problems that the local people have faced,” he said.
Soe Htet maintains that the problem must be handed upward.
“We have funds provided by the Union government, the Chin State government, and the people. We have already bough rice, cooking oil, salt, and other domestic products,” he explained. “Now the army cannot take control of the security for either the waterways or the land roads. So the Chin State government cannot do anything. I think only the Union government can.”
Arakan Army spokesperson Khaing Thukha said that they have not restricted the transportation of food from Paletwa to Kyauktaw.
“We are ready to help people if they transport food and domestic products. We’ve already released a statement,” he said.
Paletwa Township remains under curfew, with internet access shut off since early February.