Myanmar military suffers ‘heavy casualties’ in fighting with Rakhine rebels

Tensions had been building in the region amid arrests on both sides.
By RFA Burmese
2022.07.19
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Myanmar military suffers ‘heavy casualties’ in fighting with Rakhine rebels Arakan Army fighters remove weapons from a Myanmar army truck after a clash with junta troops in Rakhine state’s Maungdaw township, July 18, 2022.
Screengrab from Arakan Princess Media video

Fighting has erupted between Myanmar’s military and ethnic rebels in western Myanmar’s Rakhine state, leading to “heavy casualties” for junta troops, insurgents said Tuesday.

Tensions had been rising in recent weeks as arrests of officers and supporters on both sides of the conflict escalated, threatening the uneasy truce that has existed between the groups for more than a year. 

The first clash between a joint force of junta troops border guard police and Arakan Army (AA) fighters took place at around 9 a.m. on Monday in between the villages of Saung Paing Nyar and San Kar Pin Yin, about 20 miles from the seat of Maungdaw township, sources in the area told RFA Burmese. An hour and a half later, a second clash occurred between the villages of Done Ku Lar and Wet Kyein, around 28 miles from Maungdaw.

AA spokesman Khaing Thukha told RFA that the military had suffered “heavy casualties” during the fighting and said at least 14 soldiers, including a police captain, were taken prisoner.

“On the enemy side, there were many dead and wounded,” he said. “Fourteen of them, including a police captain, surrendered in the fighting.”

Khaing Thukha did not clarify how many of the dead and captured were soldiers and how many were police officers, but he said that “a lot of weapons and ammunition,” including 26 guns, were seized in the fighting. The exact number of casualties is not yet known.

According to Khaing Thukha, the fighting was in “retaliation” for the deaths of six AA soldiers in an airstrike by two fighter jets on a rebel base camp in Kachin National Liberation Army territory near Myanmar’s border with Thailand on July 4.

In video footage of the battle in Maungdaw released by the AA via Arakan Princess Media on Monday, at least four policemen appear dead and others wounded in the back of a police car damaged by a landmine. Additional footage shows members of the joint junta forces being detained by AA fighters along a road.

A resident of Myawaddy village in northern Maungdaw township told RFA that gunfire could still be heard on Tuesday from the site of the fighting.

“We can still hear gunshots today. I don't know exactly where the shooting is taking place, but gunfire can be heard from time to time and there’s no movement of cars or motorcycles in our area,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“It’s so quiet in the village as people are worried. We don't know where the fighting might spread to. We don't know where to run either, if it comes toward us. We have forests on one side and the river and paddy fields on the other.”

He said residents fled to the village school and hid there during Monday’s clashes and they remain fearful. People in northern Maungdaw depend mainly on forests and farms for their livelihoods, and if the fighting escalates, he said, life will become difficult for them.

Arakan Army fighters guard one of the 14 junta soldiers captured after a firefight in Rakhine state’s Maungdaw township, July 18, 2022. Credit: Screengrab from Arakan Princess Media video
Arakan Army fighters guard one of the 14 junta soldiers captured after a firefight in Rakhine state’s Maungdaw township, July 18, 2022. Credit: Screengrab from Arakan Princess Media video
Trust broken

AA spokesman Khaing Thukha said that trust between the two sides, based on an uneasy truce, has been “broken due to the dishonest actions of the military.”

“If you really want peace, you can’t be promoting it on the one hand while launching attacks on the other. These dishonest actions of the junta will not lead to peace in any way,” he said.

Repeated attempts by RFA to contact junta Deputy Minister of Information Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun went unanswered Tuesday.

The AA fought a fierce campaign against Myanmar’s military from December 2018 to November 2020, demanding autonomy for ethnic Rakhines.

More than 300 civilians were killed and more than 700 injured during the fighting, according to figures compiled by RFA.

The two sides agreed to an informal ceasefire shortly before the military seized power in a Feb. 1, 2021, coup, and the truce has held for more than a year. However, residents say tensions have risen in Rakhine since May, due to arrests and the arrival of military reinforcements.

Tensions are also simmering in Chin, Kayin and Shan states, where the AA also has a presence.

Maung Kyaw Zan, who represented Maungdaw township in the National Assembly, said the AA is fighting on behalf of the Rakhine people to protect their rights as the predominant ethnic group in Rakhine state and will only lay down its arms if the military compromises.

“People in ethnic areas are losing their essential rights, and that’s why the Rakhine people are demanding that they be protected,” he said.

“The AA is only fighting for the rights of the [Rakhine] people on their behalf. If they are assured of the rights they are demanding, the fighting will stop.”

Translation by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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