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Refugees From Ruined Village Say Myanmar Army Trapped Them

Tensions have escalated in Myanmar's western Rakhine state, where 400 people suspected of harboring rebels have had their village burned and are now trapped inside a camp by soldiers.

One of the people caught in the camp, who did not want to be named, told VOA's Burmese service by phone that access to the camp, which is inside Sabaseit village, had been restricted since Tuesday.

“They say they have restricted entry and exit [of the refugee camp]," he said. "For the time being, the problems the villagers are facing include the lack of access to food, fish paste and salt. They say, 'We cannot get out, and we cannot go to the market, either.' ”

A local resident who tried to help the refugees said the restricted access was creating some problems.

“They do not have anything to eat anymore," he said. "They asked for help by saying that they just have rice and water to eat.”

Government and military officials have not responded to VOA's request for a comment. Reports say the restrictions are expected to be in place for five days a week, but it is unclear when they will be lifted for the first time.

The situation arose following renewed fighting between the army and the Arakan Army, an ethnic rebel group that operates in Rakhine state. Rebels said the refugees came from Aung Lan Chuang, which was burned down because the military suspected the villagers of harboring rebel fighters.

Colonel Nyo Tun Aung, deputy commander in chief of the Arakan Army, criticized the government for targeting civilians instead of rebel fighters. "What we can see is that, as usual, the government is destroying one thing because they cannot handle other problems," he said.

It is not known how many people have been killed or wounded since the military and the Arakan rebels began fighting again in March.

The Arakan Army is one of several ethnic groups that have been fighting for decades against the Myanmar government - part of the effort to reach a nationwide cease-fire between most rebel groups and the government.

Rakhine has been the site of problems involving many members of the country's Muslim minority, who refer to themselves as Rohingya. Thousands have been displaced since 2012, when violence broke out between them and Buddhist residents of Rakhine state. However, the conflict between the military and the Arakan rebels is not believed to involve the Rohingya.

This report was produced in collaboration with VOA's Burmese Service.