The Myanmar military said Thursday that it seized an Arakan Army temporary camp in Rakhine state’s Buthidaung township a day earlier, where it found five dead bodies and weapons amid ongoing hostilities with the rebel forces in the region.
When government troops seized the camp in Thayet Pyin village, they also found two rifles and other weapons, according to a statement issued Wednesday by the military commander-in-chief’s office.
Colonel Win Zaw Oo from the government army's Western Military Command, which oversees operations in Rakhine state, told RFA’s Myanmar Service that soldiers took hold of the camp while performing clearance operations in the region, where fighting flared up last month.
“The AA’s strategy is to start the fighting near villages,” he said. “We assume that the AA is doing it on purpose to create instability in the region and to make people worried and live in fear.”
Myanmar forces also engaged in a firefight with about 50 AA soldiers, the statement said.
No one from the Myanmar side was injured, it said.
The AA, however, denied that the reported fighting occurred and that Myanmar forces had captured one of its camps.
“It is not true that government army got our post,” said AA spokesman Khine Thukha. “There wasn't any fighting between us and them on Jan. 16. The government military creates this fake news to cover what it really does.”
When RFA called Buthidaung lawmakers and locals in the region to comment on the latest clash, they said they were not aware of it.
The national army said it will continue clearance operations against AA for regional security purposes.
Fighting between the two sides has escalated in Rakhine state since late November 2018, displacing an estimated 6,000 civilians, some of whom have limited or no access to food supplies due to restrictions put in place by Myanmar military authorities to supposedly stop food from reaching the insurgents.
Clashes in northern Rakhine state intensified after Jan. 4 when the AA, which is fighting for greater autonomy in the state, attacked four police outposts in the region, killing 13 policemen and wounding nine others.
Aid group wants access to Rakhine
Geneva-based Doctors Without Borders (MSF) asked the Myanmar government on Thursday to allow the relief organization to help displaced civilians who need emergency assistance.
MSF said in a statement that its members are ready in Sittwe and Maungdaw township to help displaced people, and that it has asked the Ministry of Health and Sports to allow them to provide health care for them.
The organization also asked the ministry to allow aid to flow to displaced people in Rakhine state, though the government said that depends upon other agencies as well.
Than Htun Aung, the ministry’s deputy director, said he had not yet received an official request from MSF, but that cooperation from the Rakhine state government would be needed.
In 2017, the Myanmar government turned down a request by MSF to allow it to provide health care in Rakhine state following deadly attacks by the Muslim militant group the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) that sparked a brutal crackdown on Rohingya communities that drove more than 725,000 members of the minority group to neighboring Bangladesh.
In addition to MSF’s call, the All-Rakhine Unity Committee, a political and social organization in Rakhine state, has demanded that the government grant access to aid groups to help displaced civilians in war-ravaged areas.
The committee also urged the government and military not to block aid to displaced residents and called on them to make plans for organizations or individuals who want to help them.
During a meeting on Wednesday at the headquarters of the Arakan National Party (ANP) in Sittwe, the committee also denounced comments last week by government spokesman Zaw Htay claiming that the AA has links to ARSA, and called on Rakhine residents to stop supporting the insurgent group.
Zaw Zaw Tun, chairman of Rakhine Nationalities Union, which is a committee member, told RFA that his group would like to urge the government to make remarks or issue statements pertaining to the state only after it examines them from different perspectives.
The group’s statement also said that the exclusion of Rakhine state from a temporary unilateral cease-fire that the Myanmar military declared in five military regions in December to try to revive the country's shaky peace process has complicated the situation in the state. The committee urged the military to end the hostilities and engage in discussions with the AA.
Call for independent Kachin state
In Myanmar’s war-torn Kachin state, where the government military has been battling the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) but which is now under the temporary cease-fire, local civil society organizations, cultural groups, and religious leaders have expressed a willingness to establish an independent Kachin state.
A statement the groups issued following a three-day conference in Chiang Mai, Thailand, indicated that a peaceful solution will be sought to establish an independent state, in consultation with all ethnic groups in the region as well as government officials, said Naw Lat, one of the organizers of the ethnic Kachin conference.
He said the Myanmar government should not regard the statement as a problem and urged officials to pay serious attention to the call by the Kachin public and to hold talk with relevant organizations.
Naw Lat also said that the conference concluded that sovereignty of Kachin state lies solely in the hands of the Kachin people and that attendees have pledged to protect the interests of the ethnic minority group.
Reported by Kyaw Thu, Thet Su Aung, and Kyaw Tun Naing. Translated by Khet Mar and Nandar Chann. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.