Arakan Army escalates assaults in Myanmar’s west

The anti-junta group reportedly demanded the junta’s surrender before its arrival in Rakhine state’s capital.
By RFA Burmese
2024.02.15
Arakan Army escalates assaults in Myanmar’s west Arakan Army troops pose in front of the junta’s Western Regional Headquarters in Kyauktaw after capturing it on Feb. 13, 2024.
Arakan Army Information Desk

UPDATED at 4:38 P.M. ET on 02-15-2024

An ethnic army in Myanmar launched an attack on yet another major city in the country’s west, with the state’s capital close behind, according to locals on Thursday.

The Arakan Army, already in control of three townships in Rakhine state, began an assault on the seaside township of Rathedaung on Wednesday, residents told Radio Free Asia, adding that junta officials are retaliating in the coastal area by air, land and sea.

“The AA attacked the junta’s battalions in Rathedaung on Wednesday. The frequent sound of heavy and small weapons could be heard, and airstrikes were carried out,” said a Rathedaung resident who declined to be named for safety reasons. “The junta is shelling artillery now.”

The AA targeted Rathedaung-based junta battalions of 536, 537 and 538, according to locals. 

Calls by RFA to Rakhine’s junta spokesperson Hla Thein and national junta spokesperson Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun went unanswered. 

The junta’s retaliation largely focused on civilians, township residents said, adding that troops shelled nine villages with heavy artillery near Rathedaung city. 

The AA said on Wednesday that Kha Naung Gyi, Ywar Thit Kay and Nwar Tin Koke were the first to be ambushed.

Following the cessation of a year-long ceasefire with junta troops in November, the AA has seized control of three townships – the historic capital of Mrauk-U, Minbya, and Kyauktaw. Additionally, the resistance force took over the city of Pauktaw and Taung Pyo, a military post on the Bangladesh border, alongside the adjacent city of Paletwa in Chin state.

Separately, the AA also captured the Western Regional Headquarters in Kyauktaw, one of the state’s three junta headquarters, on Monday. 

Moving South

Publications in Rakhine cited sources close to the AA stating that on Monday, the anti-junta group warned of its plans to target the Sittwe-based junta Military Regional Command Headquarters. Furthermore, the group reportedly demanded the junta’s surrender before their arrival in Rakhine state’s capital city.

Photo 1.jpg
Military families in Sittwe-based Military Regional Command Headquarters during the general elections on Nov. 8, 2020. (RFA)

However, the junta is not planning to surrender, said a resident in Sittwe who asked to be anonymous. 

The junta army has been preparing defensive forts and urgently moving soldiers’ family members to safer locations, he told RFA.

“There are reports that the Arakan Army is going to attack Sittwe city. Defensive forts at the battalions, nearby offices and outskirts of the city are built and prepared,” he said. “I saw that the army’s family members are being moved out toward Yangon by military [personnel] and on civilian planes. I don’t know the exact number of people, and I can’t estimate it.”

Conflict intensifying

Meanwhile, residents said, the conflict between the military and the AA is intensifying in the coastal Rakhine townships of Ramree and Kyaukphyu, south of Sittwe, and Buthidaung and Maungdaw to the north.

Sources told RFA that the military had “lost many outposts and some police stations, as well as some towns” in AA offensives, and had responded with an increasing number of airstrikes.

The Three Brotherhood Alliance, of which the AA is a member, issued a statement which accused the military of “destroying Ramree township” with more than 130 bombs from fighter jets and Y-12 aircraft on Tuesday.

It said junta troops stationed at the Thein Taung Pagoda hill fired “at least 76 rounds” of artillery on the township, while “hundreds of shells” were fired from a navy vessel on the Kalein Taung River.

Since the AA launched attacks on a military outpost in December, more than 10,000 civilians have fled clashes in Ramree and at least 60 homes were destroyed in military airstrikes and artillery attacks, according to residents.

The Three Brotherhood Alliance said the military also dropped “at least 30 bombs” from Y-12 aircraft on Kyaukphyu’s Hnget Pyaw Chaung village on Tuesday.

Fighting has escalated in Kyaukphyu after the AA ambushed a military column on patrol near Hnget Pyaw Chaung earlier this month, residents said, causing an unknown number of civilians to flee the township for safer areas.

High-value assets

Two high-ranking junta officials are in the AA’s custody, and another two have been killed at their hands, the anti-junta group claimed in a statement on Wednesday. 

Kyauktaw-based Military Regional Operation Command Brigadier Zaw Min Tun was captured alive during a naval battle near Ah Pauk Wa village on Jan. 10. Separately, regional operation center commander Lt. Col. Nyi Nyi Win was captured with injuries on Jan. 16 and was given medical treatment.

In December, Lt. Col. Banyar Paing Soe, a commander in Paletwa township, died during a battle in Chin state’s Paletwa township. Meanwhile, Col. Min Min Tun, the commander of the 11th Regiment, died during an attack of Infantry Battalion 377 in Mrauk-U, according to the AA.

The claims follow a statement the AA released on Tuesday, in which it said its forces had “sank five navy vessels in attacks between Feb. 7 and Feb. 13.

The AA said that it destroyed three “landing craft vessels in Kyauktaw and two other boats in Minbya. Additionally, it said AA fighters had “seriously damaged four other navy vessels during the same week.

A spokesperson for the AA, Kaing Thu Kha, has not responded to RFA’s inquiries as of this writing. Attempts to contact junta Rakhine state spokesman Hla Thein about the AA’s claims also went unanswered Thursday.

Translated by RFA Burmese. Edited by Taejun Kang and Joshua Lipes.

This story has been updated to include reports of intensifying clashes between the military and the AA in the coastal Rakhine townships of Ramree, Kyaukphyu, Buthidaung, and Maungdaw, as well as the AA’s claim that it sank five navy vessels between Feb. 7 and Feb. 13.

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Johnny
Feb 15, 2024 10:32 PM

AA is progressing good, but in the North East ( Shan ) there is not much movement. They should keep up the pace they had before, weaken the Junta further till victory. And also the East ( Myawaddy area ) should progress more. We cannot stop now. Further more people that are going to be drafted by the Junta should join the resistance/oppostion to stay away from the Junta and increase man power in the resistance.