Myanmar’s Arakan Army draws closer to region’s capital

Fearing upcoming war, Sittwe residents have started fleeing, residents say.
By RFA Burmese
2024.03.07
Myanmar’s Arakan Army draws closer to region’s capital A primary school in Minbya township’s Ann Thar village was completely destroyed by a junta aerial bombardment on Mar. 7, 2024
Citizen journalist

An ethnic rebel army captured a city near the capital of western Myanmar’s Rakhine state, locals told Radio Free Asia on Thursday. 

The Arakan Army continued its offensive through the state by claiming victory in Ponnagyun city, which sits just 24 kilometers (15 miles) east of capital city, Sittwe. 

The rebel army has captured six townships across Rakhine state and another in neighboring Chin state to the north since breaking a year-long ceasefire in November. 

Arakan Army soldiers captured Ponnagyun on Monday, the first city in Sittwe district. 

A Sittwe resident who wished to remain anonymous for security reasons told RFA that the nearby battle alarmed residents in the city, causing them to flee en masse before the army could advance toward the coastal capital. 

“Since the Arakan Army captured Ponnagyun, we don’t have electricity in Sittwe. Many people are fleeing because the fighting is getting closer to Sittwe,” he said, adding that about 300 people are fleeing daily. “Mainly elderly and young people are fleeing.”

Most locals are heading to townships already captured by the Arakan Army, such as Pauktaw, Kyauktaw, Minbya and Mrauk-U, he said. Others are escaping to Yangon by air.

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Sittwe airport, Rakhine state on Nov. 20, 2023. (RFA)

Rakhine state does not have a functional railway, and junta-imposed travel bans have made it difficult for people to escape by land and sea. Junta soldiers based in Sittwe have still enforced a curfew, residents said, adding that signs of military preparation are noticeable in the city and countryside as the Arakan Army approaches. 

Escalating Conflict

Sittwe township is home to nearly 150,000 people, and residents say half of the township’s population has left. However, RFA has not yet been able to independently confirm the claim.

Many residents forced to stay in Sittwe amidst war preparations simply can’t afford to leave, they explained. 

According to a statement by the United Nation Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs released on Wednesday, the escalating battles have displaced some 148,500 people since fighting began on Nov. 13. 

On Feb. 29, junta troops fired a shell into a crowded market in Sittwe, which killed 12 and critically injured 18 more. 

Residents are also feeling the junta’s grasping attempt for control on other cities in Arakan Army territory. 

In Rakhine state’s Minbya township, junta aerial attacks have damaged an elementary school and several houses. Troops dropped explosives on Ann Thar village late at night on Wednesday, residents said.

An Ann Thar resident told RFA on Thursday that the only school in the village was completely destroyed.

“A jet dropped four 200-pound bombs at around 11.40 p.m.,” he said. “The casualties are still unknown and the telecommunication has been cut off.”

The village was attacked on Feb. 29, when another jet dropped explosives and damaged four homes, he added.

RFA contacted Rakhine state’s junta spokesperson Hla Thein for more information on fighting in Sittwe district and Minbya township, but he did not answer the phone.

Translated by RFA Burmese. Edited by Kiana Duncan and Mike Firn. 

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