North­ern Rakhine State schools set to re­open

The Myanmar Times - - Front Page - NYAN LYNN AUNG nyan­lyn­naung@mm­times.com

Rakhine State of­fi­cials have said some schools in Maung­daw district will re­open on Oc­to­ber 25, two weeks af­ter they were closed district-wide in re­sponse to a string of deadly at­tacks on bor­der guards.

SCHOOLS in Maung­daw district, closed since Oc­to­ber 10 in the af­ter­math of deadly at­tacks on bor­der guard posts, will re­open next week, ac­cord­ing to the district ad­min­is­tra­tive depart­ment.

U Ye Htut, head of the depart­ment, told The Myan­mar Times that some schools in re­mote or con­flict-sen­si­tive ar­eas may not re­sume right away but those that are able to would open their doors to stu­dents when schools else­where in the coun­try do on Oc­to­ber 25, fol­low­ing an ex­tended hol­i­day break for Thad­ingyut.

“There is not any plan yet for how to take ac­tion re­gard­ing [re­open­ing] schools in re­mote ar­eas,” he said.

The district en­com­passes the town­ships of Maung­daw and Buthi­daung in north­ern Rakhine State, where 183 and 219 schools have been shut­tered, re­spec­tively.

U Khin Aung, head of the Maung­daw District Education Depart­ment, con­firmed that classes would re­sume on Oc­to­ber 25, with teach­ers al­ready hav­ing been in­structed to make sure they are back to school in time.

The plan to re­open schools two weeks af­ter the co­or­di­nated bor­der guard post at­tacks on Oc­to­ber 9 comes de­spite a per­sist­ing sense of in­se­cu­rity in the re­gion. The govern­ment an­nounced on Oc­to­ber 14 that the district has been des­ig­nated a com­bat zone, and the Tat­madaw is heav­ily re­strict­ing ac­cess and move­ment in the area as se­cu­rity forces un­der­take a man­hunt for the sus­pected at­tack­ers.

A se­nior mil­i­tary of­fi­cial from the Kyikan Pyin Bor­der Guard Po­lice command post, where as­sailants killed six po­lice of­fi­cers in the first of three co­or­di­nated raids in the early hours of Oc­to­ber 9, said civil­ians were be­ing pre­vented from trav­el­ling be­yond a gate there for se­cu­rity rea­sons. Po­lice and Tat­madaw troops were still con­duct­ing clear­ance op­er­a­tions in the area and could not yet guar­an­tee the vil­lages’ safety, he said.

Colonel Htin Lin, Rakhine State’s min­is­ter for se­cu­rity and bor­der af­fairs, said Tat­madaw forces were sys­tem­at­i­cally comb­ing the area to root out sus­pected mil­i­tants but had not yet com­pleted the op­er­a­tion as of yes­ter­day.

Ac­cord­ing to an Oc­to­ber 14 state­ment from the Pres­i­dent’s Of­fice that iden­ti­fied per­pe­tra­tors of the Oc­to­ber 9 as­sault as be­long­ing to a group called Aqa Mul Mu­jahidin, “The at­tacks in Maung­daw town­ship were sys­tem­at­i­cally planned in ad­vance over a long pe­riod of time, as­sisted by foreign fund­ing and the sup­port of mem­bers of foreign ter­ror­ist or­gan­i­sa­tions.”

Nearly 400 mil­i­tants could owe al­le­giance to Aqa Mul Mu­jahidin, said the state­ment, de­scrib­ing the at­tacks as “in­tended to pro­mote ex­trem­ist vi­o­lent ideology among the ma­jor­ity Mus­lim pop­u­la­tion in the area”, a ref­er­ence to self-iden­ti­fy­ing Ro­hingya Mus­lims.

A man­hunt for the per­pe­tra­tors has since seen 30 “at­tack­ers” and five Tat­madaw per­son­nel killed, ac­cord­ing to an Oc­to­ber 17 press con­fer­ence featuring se­nior mem­bers of the cab­i­net.

Rights groups have urged re­straint as the crack­down con­tin­ues. Of­fi­cials at the press con­fer­ence in Nay Pyi Taw on Oc­to­ber 17, re­cently re­turned from a trip to Rakhine State, in­sisted that se­cu­rity forces’ con­duct in the restive re­gion – in­clud­ing in­ter­ro­ga­tion of de­tainees sus­pected of ties to Aqa Mul Mu­jahidin – was in ac­cor­dance with the law and “po­lice pro­ce­dures”.

Ac­cord­ing to the Rakhine State govern­ment, more than 1000 peo­ple have fled the com­bat zone to safer lo­ca­tions, in­clud­ing many teach­ers.

“We are work­ing to nor­malise the sit­u­a­tion around the state, co­op­er­at­ing with the mil­i­tary and try­ing to al­low flee­ing eth­nic peo­ple to re­turn to their orig­i­nal vil­lages,” said U Min Aung, head of Rakhine State’s in­for­ma­tion depart­ment.

Some res­i­dents ex­pressed scep­ti­cism that a re­turn to busi­ness as usual at schools in Maung­daw and Buthi­daung town­ships would be pos­si­ble as soon as next week, cit­ing lin­ger­ing con­cerns about the se­cu­rity sit­u­a­tion.

Daw Ni Ni, 67, from Phar Watt Chaung vil­lage, about 1 mile (1.6 kilo­me­tres) from Kyet Yoo Pyin vil­lage in Maung­daw town­ship, told The Myan­mar Times that nearly all the res­i­dents of her vil­lage had fled in the af­ter­math of the at­tacks, with just a few men stay­ing be­hind to stand guard.

Both of those vil­lages are lo­cated near Pyaung­pit vil­lage, where an at­tack by 300 armed as­sailants on Oc­to­ber 11 killed four Tat­madaw sol­diers.

“As a teacher, how to teach with­out stu­dents? So far, most of the vil­lagers are still wor­ried about re­turn­ing to the vil­lage,” she said.

Ma Thida Soe, 24, a teacher from Ywet Nyo Taung vil­lage who also fled to Maung­daw town, said on Oc­to­ber 15 that the vil­lage she teaches in is sur­rounded by Mus­lim vil­lages. She added that she wor­ried the se­cu­rity pres­ence in the area was in­suf­fi­cient.

“If the govern­ment takes strong se­cu­rity [pre­cau­tions] for us to go back to school, I will be back. If not, I am afraid to go back,” she told The Myan­mar Times. “How­ever, I am a [civil] ser­vant. I have no choice when the govern­ment or­ders back the teach­ers.”

U Ye Htut, the depart­ment head, al­lowed for the pos­si­bil­ity that the tar­get date for re­open­ing schools in the district might have to be pushed back if con­di­tions were not right.

“If the se­cu­rity in place is not strong, we have to make con­tin­gency plans for school re­sum­ing and teach­ing, but no idea for that [has been pro­posed] yet,” he said.

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