An ethnic Rakhine insurgent group launched coordinated attacks on four police outposts near Myanmar’s border with Bangladesh early Friday, killing 13 policemen and injuring nine others, a spokesman for the Myanmar Army said, as violence in restive northern Rakhine state intensified.
The Arakan Army, a Rakhine Buddhist military force that has been fighting the Myanmar Army in northern Rakhine state, attacked the Kyaung Taung, Kahtee Hla, Gotepi, and Nga Myin Taw police outposts in Buthidaung township, killing the 13 men, Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun from the information department of the Office of the Commander-in-Chief told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
Ten policemen from the Nga Myin Taw station, two from the Kahtee Hla station, and one from the Kyaung Taung station were killed, he said.
Government army troops in the region have been conducting clearance operations amid a new round of hostilities that began in December, adding that the military did not have any further details about the fighting.
“Soldiers and police around this area went to the combat sites to help government troops,” Zaw Min Tun said. “What we’ve heard is that fighting is still going on.”
AA spokesperson Khine Thukha told RFA that the Arakan soldiers attacked the outposts because the government army is using the police for military operations, and that the police have threatened area villagers.
The AA said it had taken 14 “prisoners of war” — nine officers, four officers’ wives, and one immigration employee — during the attacks which occurred on Myanmar’s Independence Day, marking the 71st anniversary of the country’s independence from colonial ruler Britain.
Villagers also confirmed that two border policemen from the Kahtee Hla station were killed, and three injured in Friday’s attack.
“The AA attacked the government army’s post in Kahtee Hla village around 6 a.m., and military helicopters came in around 7:30 a.m. to attack the AA troops,” said resident Wai Thar Aung.
“While the government army was fighting the AA by helicopter, AA troops came into Kahtee Hla village and hid there,” he said. “Because they were hiding in the village, the government army opened fire with heavy weapons and seven houses were destroyed, but no one was injured. The fighting ended around 12:30 p.m.”
Government media also said that 13 policemen had been killed and nine injured in the raids that began at 6:45 a.m. and involved the use of small and heavy firearms.
Around 100 AA soldiers attacked the Nga Myin Taw police outpost, 100 or so attacked the Kyaung Taung police outpost, an estimated 50 attacked the Gotepi police outpost, and 100 more attacked the Kahtee Hla police outpost, according to a report by the Myanmar News Agency.
Among the nine policemen injured, two were from the Nga Myin Taw police outpost, one was from the Kyaung Taung outpost, three were from the Gotepi outpost, and three were from the Kahtee Hla outpost, the report said.
State media said the “terrorist” attacks further complicated efforts by the central government to bring peace and development to Rakhine state.
Rocked by instability
Myanmar’s troubled western state has been rocked by instability not only by fighting between the AA and government forces, but also by a brutal military crackdown on Rohingya Muslims following deadly attacks on police outposts by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army militant group in August 2017. More than 725,000 Rohingya fled to safety in neighboring Bangladesh during the campaign of violence.
Clashes between the AA, which is demanding greater autonomy for the state’s ethnic Rakhine Buddhists, and the Myanmar military since December have displaced thousands of civilians in Kyauktaw, Ponnakyun, and Buthidaung townships.
Four people were injured on Thursday when a bomb that was dropped exploded in Ponnakyun’s Thetpyikya village, locals said.
In December, the Myanmar military agreed to a four-month unilateral cease-fire in war-torn Kachin and Shan states in a bid to reignite the government's stalled peace process by enticing separatist ethnic armies to join talks with the central government, but it excluded Rakhine state.
Reported by Min Thein Aung for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.