Rakhine rebels claim victory over govt troops


Rakhine State is one of the poorest parts of impoverished Myanmar. Source: Flickr

A Myanmar battalion commander and 20 of his troops have been killed fighting the rebel Arakan Army (AA) in Rakhine state, according to the ethnic armed group.

Government forces attacked the AA in Ponnagyun township and its base near Lawmara in Rathedaung township during the Thingyan new-year celebrations, said AA spokesman Khine Thukha.

“We have been fighting because Infantry 232 led by commander Myo Min Tun came into the AA’s area,” he told Radio Free Asia.

“Myo Min Tun and 20 soldiers were killed in the fighting in Ponnagyun township,” he said. “Some [troops] from the AA are injured, but no one was killed.”

The military was unavailable for comment.

Reinforcements have arrived in Ponnakyun and Kyauktaw, according to the Democratic Voice of Burma, while residents’ lives were being disrupted.

We’re finding it difficult to get food because the fighting is going on,” said an unnamed resident. “We are still hearing the sound of heavy weapons.”

Government troops claim to have occupied the AA’s camps and discovered hand-made landmines.

The Irrawaddy news website said ethnic tensions were growing because of inflammatory social-media posts and unverified photos depicting violence.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy said on April 13 that the army would try to end “AA insurgencies” from Kyauktaw, where fighting broke out at in late 2015, the website said.

In January, under the previous government, the military vowed to eliminate the AA, accusing it of creating instability in the state that borders Bangladesh.

Suu Kyi has made peace and reconciliation a priority for her administration and vowed to expand a ceasefire, which was only signed by eight armed groups last October.

There are around 22 armed ethnic groups and the AA was excluded from last year’s peace process because of ongoing hostilities with government forces.

AA spokesman Khine Thukka said: “We think all problems we have now are political problems. We have been asking for a long time to solve political problems in political ways, but government troops are eradicating us. If we can’t solve political problems with dialogue, we will never have peace and ethnic unity.

“Now that we have the first civilian government in many years, which has said its priority is national reconciliation and peace, we have been expecting the best during the new government’s term, but we are getting ready to face the worst situation at the same time,” he said.

Irrawaddy quoted him saying that the AA would participate in talks if the other excluded groups were invited to take part.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in the impoverished state a boat capsized drowning around 21, including nine children, who were apparently from the marginalised Rohingya Muslim minority. Community members blamed the deaths on travel restrictions that forced them to journey by sea.

It sank in rough seas near the Rakhine capital, Sittwe, according to the UN.

Most of the passengers were from Sin Tet Maw in Paukaw township, a Rohingya camp for those forced from their homes by communal violence.

“We cannot use direct transport [by land] to Sittwe to buy goods or medicine,” said Rohingya activist Kyaw Hla Aung.