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Clashes between junta forces and Arakan Army rattle Rakhine, Chin states

Renewed fighting between Myanmar regime forces and the Arakan Army has intensified in Rakhine and Chin states with at least 10 clashes since July 18, following the dissolution of a fragile cease-fire that had held for a year and a half, residents of the western states told RFA.

Junta troops have blocked roads connecting Rathedaung, Buthidaung and Maungdaw townships in western Myanmar’s Rakhine state. More than 150 residents from at least three villages have been displaced due to fighting in Rathedaung, locals said.

Clashes between junta forces and the Arakan Army (AA), which wants control of Rakhine state and Paletwa township in Chin state, have been going on for about three weeks, compounding difficulties people are facing because the military has closed all major roads in the area, said a Paletwa resident who declined to be named for security reasons.

“We could hear explosions of heavy weapons,” he said. “Yesterday, the shelling started at about 10 a.m. Fighting has been going on for over 20 days.”

A ship carrying freight that usually runs between Chin and Rakhine once a week has not been traveling because of the armed conflict, cutting off the flow of goods to Paletwa, he said.

“We don’t have any cooking oil, [and] the price of rice, which used to be just over 60,000 kyats [U.S. $28], is now over 100,000 kyats [U.S. $47],” the resident told RFA.

Myanmar military and AA forces had fought fiercely in Rakhine from December 2018 to November 2020 over the latter’s demand for self-determination for the state’s Buddhist Rakhine ethnic minority.

But the two sides struck an uneasy truce a few months before the military seized power from a democratically elected government on Feb. 1, 2021 and Rakhine had been relatively quiet amid widespread protests and fighting against the coup and junta across the country of 54 million people.

On Aug. 13 military and AA soldiers clashed about 1.2 kilometers (0.75 miles) north of Paletwa’s Thu Htay Kone village. The AA said yesterday that fighting had occurred around the area for about two weeks and that junta forces were mainly firing from a distance with heavy weapons.

In northern Maungdaw township, locals said there were continuous battles in three places in Rathedaung and Maungdaw townships on Aug. 13, following two battles in the area on July 18.

Junta spokesman Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun blamed the AA for the fighting in the northern part of Maungdaw that took place on July 26.

Roads closed

Kyaw Min Khaing, a resident of Rathedaung, said the military has shut off the roads connecting the three Rakhine state townships because of the clashes.

“The road connecting Ah Ngu Maw, Buthidaung and Maungdaw has been closed indefinitely by the military,” he told RFA. “It is still impossible to travel from place to place. Getting food and health care is difficult in that area. Right now, we cannot travel there.”

More than 150 residents of Chein Khar Li, Koe Tan Kauk and Kyan Taing Aung villages in Rathedaung have fled their homes because of the hostilities, he added.

One nearly two-hour skirmish that occurred 1.5 kilometers (0.93 miles) north of Done Paik village in Rathedaung on Aug. 13 resulted in the deaths of 31 junta soldiers and the AA’s seizure of weapons and ammunition, according to a statement issued by the guerilla force on Monday.

Another battle took place near Maungdaw’s Kyauk Pan Tu village, near milestone 40 of the Myanmar-Bangladesh border, during which at least six junta soldiers were killed, the AA said.

During these battles, the AA also suffered casualties, but the ethnic armed group did not disclose the number.

RFA has been unable to independently confirm the number of casualties reported by the AA.

The AA predicts that the fighting will become more widespread because the Myanmar military is bringing in reinforcements by large military vehicles as well as by ships and helicopters.

The guerilla force said it would fight back the junta’s army with the help of allied ethnic armed organizations and the public, and warned civilians in the area to remain on alert.

RFA could not reach Rakhine state junta spokesman Hla Thein for comment.

The national military has not released any statements about the renewed fighting in Rakhine.

Pe Than, a veteran Rakhine politician and a former lawmaker from Myebon township, agreed that the fighting will spread if the two sides cannot come to an agreement to end their hostilities.

“If we don’t want these battles to continue, there must be some reconciliation,” he said. “If they cannot talk over things, there will be more fighting and people will suffer. That’s why a dialogue between the two groups is important. Otherwise, I can see that there would be more battles in one place or another.”

Translated by Khin Maung Nyane for RFA Burmese. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.