More than 4,500 people have been forced to flee their homes since early December due to fighting between Myanmar's military and the Arakan Army (AA). The AA is a largely Buddhist multi-ethnic militia fighting for greater autonomy in Rakhine State, where there is also a conflict between government forces and Muslim ethnic Rohingya. United Nations officials said that people displaced by clashes between state forces and the AA during the past month have taken shelter in monasteries and elsewhere in Kyauktaw, Ponnagyun, Rathedaung and Buthidaung townships. A Jan. 7 report of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
stated that local authorities, the Red Cross, civil society and host communities were providing food and other relief items as well as cash. Troop movements and clashes continued following attacks by the AA on police posts in Buthidaung township Jan. 4, according to the U.N. report. The attack left 13 police officers dead and nine wounded, state media reported. Zaw Win, a leader from civil society in Buthidaung town, northern Rakhine State, said they had provided rice, oil and salt to the internally displaced people and were collecting funds to provide more assistance. He expressed concern that civilians will bear the brunt of continued fighting. Rather than brother fighting brother, both sides should agree to negotiate, Zaw Win told ucanews.com. Myanmar's military declared a four-month ceasefire in northern and eastern Myanmar on Dec.21, however, Rakhine was excluded and operations against the AA have continued. Myanmar's civilian leaders, including state counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, have met with a delegation, led military chief Min Aung Hlaing, to discuss national security issues, a state-run newspaper reported Jan.8. A Myanmar government spokesperson, Zaw Htay
, said that the government had instructed the military to crackdown on insurgents. He also reportedly urged the people of Rakhine not to support the AA rebels, who he accused of having ties with the Muslim Rohingya militant group called the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA). Pe Than, a lower house MP for the hard-line Buddhist Arakan National Party
in Rakhine State, said the government and military leaders need to invite the AA to the negotiating table as fresh fighting in Rakhine would impact on the wider national peace process.