COVID19 has exacerbated conflict in many regions. There are complex social and political consequences to the pandemic, and countless lives lost due to the compounding effects of pre-existing conflict. Stories like this illustrate why peacebuilding is equally as important as medical treatment during the pandemic.
The Chin State, occupied by 110,000 predominantly Christian chin, is caught in the crossfire between the Arakam Army and the Burmese Military (Tatmadaw). Clashes have re-emerged and worsened between the two parties, leaving dozens dead and thousands displaced. The Burmese Military implemented a Four-Cut strategy to deprive the Arakan Army of food, funds, intelligence, and recruits. However, because the Chin state is positioned between the two combatant groups, the Chin people now suffer shortages and high prices for food, shelter, and medicine.
The Burmese Army (Tatmadaw) now occupies the Paletwa Township, an area of 1,370 square miles consisting of 400 villages near the Bangladesh border. This, and neighboring townships, are home to thousands of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) who are scattered throughout the area or concentrated in IDP camps. The main camps host close to 9,000 people, mainly women and children, all in dire need of humanitarian assistance. Emergency relief (rice, oil, and salt) was delivered to a neighboring township in April, but only enough for 2,6000 people for two months. The World Food Program has not yet been able to reach Paletwa.
While IDPs struggle for rice and oil, the combatants exchange barbs and bullets. The Office of the Commander in Chief of Defence Services has declared a ceasefire in the area until 31 August 2020, for the containment, prevention, and treatment of Covid-19.
However, the ceasefire does not extend to areas where ‘terrorist groups’ have positions — such as Paletwa Township. The Arakan Army’s response was that the cease-fire is a deliberate attempt to use the pandemic to take military and political advantage. The United Nations Security Council was due to discuss the situation in a closed-door session on 14 May 2020.
Mediators Beyond Borders International will send a representative to assess and assist the situation in Chin State. Shadia Marhaban is an international mediator, capacity builder, and activist from Aceh, Indonesia. She is familiar with the area and is prepared to go as soon as travel restrictions ease.
Through MBBI’s regional liaison and her own network in the Chin State, Shadia will meet local humanitarian organizations, work with embassies, meet leaders, identify methods to deliver aid, and facilitate peace discussions. If permitted, Shadia will visit affected communities in Paletwa to assess first-hand the impact the conflict is having on the Chin and other ethnic groups.
This life-saving work requires travel, translators, immersive fieldwork, specialized expertise, and complex coordination, which could be achieved at a modest budget of USD $15,000.