Myanmar troops seized an Arakan Army training camp the hills of turbulent Rakhine state’s Mrauk-U township on Saturday, finding weapons, ammunition, and food reserves, a government military spokesman said, though a representative for the rebel group denied the claim, suggesting that it was a fabrication.
Brigadier General Win Zaw Oo, spokesman for the military’s Western Regional Command which is responsible for Rakhine state, told RFA’s Myanmar Service that the AA set up the base east of Pan Myaung village as a temporary camp while fighting government soldiers.
“We have been trying to capture the facility step-by-step since March 19 during clearance operations,” he said. “We first had armed engagements with them before we captured it around 2:30 p.m. yesterday.”
“As it was announced, we found huts and residential facilities for 200-300 people and trenches,” he said. “We also found some equipment used for training.”
Win Zaw Oo said the seizure of the camp was the second training facility the Myanmar Army had captured during hostilities with the AA which escalated early this year after Arakan fighters carried out deadly attacks on police outposts in northern Rakhine.
Myanmar forces took hold of the other camp east of Mrauk-U's Tain Nyo village in March.
“We captured a small training facility with food, rice, and pots for cooking that were used by AA members,” he said.
Residents of Pan Myaung village and other communities in Mrauk-U informed Myanmar military columns about the locations of AA training grounds and camps in nearby ridges and said they were subjected to threats and assaults by the Arakans, state-run Myanmar News Agency reported Monday.
Myanmar forces searched the ridges near the village and began armed operations against the AA on March 19, engaging in 20 battles in a campaign that ended in the capture of the temporary training ground on April 13, the report said.
AA soldiers stationed at the training camp then fled to the southwest and northwest, it said.
'Lying to their superiors'
AA spokesman Khine Thukha denied the military’s claim, saying that the Arakan force did not set up any training facilities at the location east of Pan Myaung village mentioned in an announcement by the Myanmar military.
“[Regarding] what they mentioned in the announcement, they might be referring to huts built by some woodcutters and local villagers for hunting activities,” he said.
He also charged that Myanmar military officials made up the story, asserting that they often fabricate tales about victories during clashes when they report to their superiors to avoid being reprimanded by the top brass.
“The death toll from the military has been high, especially in the past few months,” Khine Thukha said. “Some soldiers were killed in battle, but they were [falsely] listed as deserters. There are cases where the commanding officers were punished for showing so many deserters.”
“A commanding officer and a tactical operation commander were recently reprimanded for this charge,” he said. “Top leaders of the military are lying to the state, while the officers at the bottom are lying to their superiors. I think this announcement is exactly what that is.”
The Myanmar Army has yet to disclose how many of its soldiers have been killed in the hostilities.
Khine Thukha also noted a similar announcement by Myanmar forces about capturing AA training facilities in the Yan Chaung area of Mrauk-U township.
“In reality, there are no training facilities in that area,” he said. “It is the same in this case. We don’t have any training facility in the Pan Myaung area.”
Reporting the truth
But Win Zaw Oo countered that Myanmar soldiers have been reporting the truth to their superiors and that the two seized camps — the one east of Pan Myaung village and the other one east of Tain Nyo village — definitely had been set up for training purposes.
“We have reasons to conclude it is a training facility,” he said, pointing to military training equipment found at the site near Pan Myaung village and to the testimony of people the Myanmar Army recently captured as suspected AA soldiers supporters following a deadly attack last week by the Arakans on a police battalion headquarters and residential unit in Mrauk-U township.
“[After] a large force of AA members attacked our police facility and then dispersed, we arrested 23 people suspected of being AA members,” Win Zaw Oo, adding that four other were later apprehended, bringing the total to 27.
“According to the testimonies of these detainees, we could confirm that many local villagers had had received [some kind of] training at that facility,” he said.
Reported by Nay Rein Kyaw for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.