Northern Rakhine State schools set to reopen
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.