Fighting between Myanmar’s military and the ethnic Arakan Army (AA), which resumed in July after a two-year lull, has intensified and is spreading southward through Rakhine state, sources in the region told RFA Burmese on Wednesday.
What began as intermittent clashes two months ago in northern Rakhine’s Maungdaw township and across the border to the northeast in neighboring Chin state’s Paletwa township has since spread to the central Rakhine townships of Buthidaung, Mrauk-U and Kyauktaw, and is now expanding to Toungup township in the state’s south-central region, according to residents.
Civilian casualties are also on the rise, largely due to shelling by the military, sources said. On Tuesday night, a family of four in Kyauktaw’s Na Ga Yar village were injured by heavy weapons fire originating from the junta’s 9 Military Operations Command headquarters in the seat of the township, according to one of the victims, Mya Yin Oo.
“[Three] shells hit our house while I was in the kitchen,” she said. “My grandson, who was reading upstairs, as well as my other grandson downstairs, were both injured. My daughter was also injured and I was wounded on my back.”
Mya Yin Oo’s daughter, Oo Yin Than, was injured on her hand, while her grandsons — 10th grade students Myo Naing Win and Min Aye Soe — were injured on the head and back. All four are being treated at the Kyuaktaw Hospital and are expected to fully recover, Mya Yin Oo said.
Other residents of the area told RFA that on Monday, AA fighters in Kyauktaw intercepted and attacked two junta boats carrying food and soldiers making their way to Paletwa along the Kalatan River.
The vessels retreated and 9 Military Operations Command headquarters began firing heavy weapons, they said.
A resident of Toungup, who declined to be named, told RFA that there was a clash between junta troops and the AA on Aug. 26 near the township’s Kyein Taw Kyin village and another on Sept. 16, about three miles southwest of the township. He said he expects more fighting to come to southern Rakhine state in the weeks ahead.
“There was one clash near Toungup and another in the vicinity of the Toungup jetty,” the resident said.
“Everyone is assuming that there will be more fighting soon, all the way down through southern Rakhine state, and people are living in a state of fear because the military is checking all traffic on the roads.”
Meanwhile, in the north, the AA recently announced that it had captured the junta’s 352 Light Infantry Battalion camp on Sept. 10 and its Border Guard Station near milepost No. 40 along Myanmar’s border with Bangladesh on Aug. 31. The AA claimed that “many junta soldiers were killed” and many others were captured, along with weapons and ammunition.
Junta Deputy Information Minister Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun said at the press conference on Tuesday that the military is trying to recapture the two locations.
“Regarding the AA, the [military] has taken necessary action since the attack on the No. 40 border guard post,” he said.
“The AA attacked weak border police outposts because they didn’t want to walk along the road to peace. There are many plans behind these attacks. We already know those plans. Therefore, we will take the necessary response.”
AA spokesman Khaing Thukha said in an online video press conference on Sept. 19 that the clashes were in response to military roadblocks and maneuvers, and vowed to retaliate to any attack by junta troops.
“The AA had to respond in some way in areas where the military had imposed restrictions and roadblocks,” he said. “If they attack us, we will counter them. That’s why fighting was fierce in those areas. If they attack in other places, they will have to face counter-attacks.”
He said the junta had increased its strength in Maungdaw township to around 10,000 troops, and the AA had responded in kind.
Pe Than, a veteran Rakhine politician and former lawmaker, told RFA that the AA is trying to establish its own liberated area in the state.
“AA troops are currently stationed throughout the region. Administration and judicial mechanisms have been firmly established [in its territory],” he said.
“We are seeing that the AA has changed its strategy from defensive actions to offensive ones and has even captured junta camps. So what [the AA] is doing now is shutting down the border guard stations in Maungdaw. From there, I think they are trying to establish a liberated area between Maungdaw and Paletwa townships.”
In the more than two months since the military and the AA resumed fighting, more than 10,000 residents have fled their homes in townships including Maungdaw, Rathedaung and Mrauk-U.
Three people, including one child, have been killed and 11 injured by junta shelling in Mrauk-U township since the fighting resumed, residents said.
Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.