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Over 1,000 Myanmar schools empty as fighting resumes in Rakhine

Over 1,000 schools in western Myanmar have been abandoned by pupils, education officials told Radio Free Asia on Thursday.

Escalating battles in northern Rakhine state between the junta and Arakan Army have emptied schools in 10 townships. 

In those townships, students are normally sent to some 1,800 schools, now of which only about 650 can operate, said Rakhine state’s education director Ba Htwe Sein.

“It’s not that they are closed. Parents in uninhabited villages don’t send children to school,” he told RFA. “Children don’t come to school because parents don’t let them go. They are worried about the children. We have not ordered the schools to close.”

Rakhine’s education department is telling township education offices to encourage students to go to school and asking schools to run as normal in areas where they can, he added.

Some entire villages have fled because of fighting, like Chein Khar Li in Rathedaung township, said one parent from the village. Since Nov. 13 when the Arakan Army and junta’s year-long ceasefire ended, children have not been sent to school in conflict-ridden areas.

“My daughter is in the fourth grade. She attends Chein Khar Li village’s elementary school. Since November 13, the entire village has fled. There is only a school with no teacher at all,” the parent said, asking to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals. 

“Everyone is fleeing. Even if the child wants to go to school, she could not go to school because there is no one to teach her. I am worried about the delay in children’s education.”

Since the junta has blocked land and water routes to suppress the Arakan Army, teachers and other school employees can’t get to work, he added.

Most educators in battlegrounds are also fleeing for their lives, said one middle school teacher in Pauktaw, where a series of junta attacks since Nov. 16 have led residents to flee en masse.

“How can the teachers go to schools? The teachers themselves are fleeing the war. There are no schools anymore, so who is going to teach?” she said, asking to remain anonymous to protect herself from reprisals. “Even teachers have to flee to save their lives.”

Reopening schools seems impossible in the near future, residents told RFA, adding that junta troops are firing heavy artillery every day in Pauktaw. 

More than 26,000 people from 4,700 households in Rakhine state have fled due to intense conflict, the United Nation Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported on Friday. 

The report also said at least 11 local people have been killed and more than 30 have been injured by heavy shelling in Maungdaw, Mrauk-U, Kyauktaw and Ann townships.

Translated by RFA Burmese. Edited by Mike Firn.