The Arakan Army claimed Tuesday that its soldiers seized a Myanmar military artillery battery during a battle in Rakhine state’s Myebon township in which 10 government soldiers were killed.
The armed engagement was the latest clash between the two sides since a cease-fire expired on the weekend.
Arakan Army (AA) soldiers captured the temporary heavy artillery camp belonging to Artillery Battery No. 373 under the military’s Western Regional Command on Sept. 22 near Taunggyi village, according to a statement issued by the AA .
The announcement also said the AA retrieved the 10 dead bodies, military equipment, and 18 baskets of ammunition.
A photo released by the AA shows a MG42 machine gun, four MA assault rifles, six 60-milllimeter mortar shells, three rocket-propelled grenades, nine combat helmets, and a captain’s uniform among the items seized.
The artillery battery capture was the result of an AA defensive attack in response to assaults from the Myanmar Army's temporary camp since Sept. 21, said AA spokesman Khine Thukha.
“They have launched offensives since Sept. 21, so we had no choice but to fire back at them,” he said. “The artillery unit from that camp fired indiscriminately at us, so we had to capture that camp.”
AA soldiers fought for three hours after Myanmar forces began firing heavy artillery in several directions, he said, adding that some Arakan troops had been injured, though he did not provide an exact figure.
Colonel Win Zaw Oo, commander of the Myanmar military's Western Command, confirmed the armed engagements, but said he did not have further details.
Villagers flee homes
Mya Than, a lawmaker from Myebon township who is deputy speaker of the Rakhine state parliament, said the battle prompted residents from nearby Michaungtat and Yosanon villages to flee their homes and seek shelter in neighboring communities.
“The villagers heard the gunshots from the mountains between the two villages,” he said. “Those from Yosanon village fled their homes after hearing the gunfire.”
Pe Than, a lower house lawmaker from the hard-line Buddhist Arakan National Party (ANP) who represents the Myebon township constituency, visited the some of the villages near the area where the fighting occurred.
“The people from the villages are scared,” he told RFA’s Myanmar Service, adding that only half of the area’s residents had left their homes.
“All the children, women, and elderly people have been sent to other villages,” he said.
There was fighting, and it is likely to continue,” Pe Than said. “The villagers fear that some of the troops might come to the village and cause trouble, so they fled before that happened.”
Fighting in Rakhine state flared up late last year after the AA launched a push for greater autonomy in the state, and intensified in early January after the Arakan force conducted attacks on police outposts that killed 13 officers.
The renewed armed conflict has displaced tens of thousands of civilians and killed and injured dozens of others.
Fighting flares in Kutkai
In a related development, government troops and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) exchanged fire Tuesday morning in war-torn northern Shan state’s Kutkai township, the first fighting since the Myanmar military's unilateral cease-fire expired two days earlier, a TNLA spokesman said Tuesday.
The clash erupted when Myanmar soldiers launched offensives in the direction of a mountain near Konesar village where the TNLA’s Infantry Battalion No. 223 and Brigade No. 5 were stationed, said TNLA spokesman Major Mai Aik Kyaw.
“The military launched offensives from the Taungthonesel area at the exit of Kutkai town,” he said. “The military’s Infantry Battalion Nos. 45, 242, and 69 attacked toward the mountain near Konesar village where we are stationed.”
Additional Myanmar Army soldiers from Kutkai town aided the ground troops by firing 105-millimeter howitzers, he said.
It remains unclear if any soldiers were killed in the clash.
“We saw the military troops transporting four or five bodies, [but] I don’t know if they were corpses or injured soldiers,” Mai Aik Kyaw said.
Myanmar military spokesman Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun was not available for comment.
The clash violated a unilateral truce called by the Brotherhood Alliance of three ethnic armies, comprising the TNLA, AA, and Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), which runs to the end of the year to give them time to engage in peace negotiations.
The three groups are members of the larger Northern Alliance, which also includes the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), though that ethnic military is not involved in hostilities with Myanmar forces.
The Myanmar Army and TNLA troops began fighting today at 5 a.m. today in the area between Kutkai’s Konesar and Parju villages and have continued fighting into the evening, villagers said.
Everyone from Konesar had fled to nearby Kamantone, Nanthudae, and Mannaung villages or into nearby forests, they said.
“We are too afraid to stay at home, and some of us are now hiding in the forest,” the head of Konesar village said.
“They are still fighting as we speak,” he said. “We can hear the firing of artillery. It is not far from our village. All the villagers have fled their homes and are taking shelter in nearby villages like Mantone and Nantmu.”
The two sides also engaged in clashes near Konesar, Parju, and Nanthudae villages in August, prompting villagers to flee to safety.
Volunteers helping the villagers escape the hostilities said many who fled from the August battles had returned to their homes a few days ago but are now concerned that the fighting will intensify in the region.
Armed conflict has raged for most of this year between the three rebel armies and government forces in northern Shan state, displacing thousands of local residents.
Reported by Zarni Htun and Kan Thar for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.