Arakan Army claims to seize town in Myanmar-Bangladesh border

Arakan Army claims victory in Buthidaung town, Myanmar. (Photo/AP)

A powerful ethnic armed group fighting Myanmar’s military government in the country’s western state of Rakhine claimed Saturday to have seized a town near the border with Bangladesh, marking the latest in a series of victories for foes of the country’s military government.

Members of the state’s Muslim Rohingya ethnic minority, targets of deadly army-directed violence in 2017, appear to have been the main victims of fighting in the town of Buthidaung, where the Arakan Army claims to have chased out forces of the military regime.

There are contradictory accounts of who is to blame for the reported burning of the town, compelling its Rohingya residents to flee.

The competing claims could not be verified independently, with access to the internet and mobile phone services in the area mostly cut off.

Khaing Thukha, a spokesperson for the Arakan Army, told The Associated Press by text message from an undisclosed location that his group had seized Buthidaung after capturing all the military’s outposts there.

The Arakan Army is the well-trained and well-armed military wing of the Rakhine ethnic minority movement, which seeks autonomy from Myanmar’s central government. It is also a member of an armed ethnic group alliance that recently gained strategic territory in the country’s northeast on the border with China.

Caught in the middle

The group said in a Saturday statement on the Telegram messaging platform that fighting was ongoing on the outskirts of Buthidaung as its fighters chased after the retreating army soldiers and local Muslims it said were fighting alongside them.

Khaing Thukha said the Arakan Army’s troops were caring for Muslim villagers fleeing the fighting.

He denied allegations on social media that the Arakan Army had set fire to the town, which Rohingya mostly populate.

Rohingya have lived in Myanmar for generations, but they are widely regarded by many in the country’s Buddhist majority as having "illegally migrated from Bangladesh". The Rohingya face a great amount of prejudice and are generally denied citizenship and other basic rights.

The Rohingya were the targets of a brutal counterinsurgency campaign incorporating rape and murder that saw an estimated 740,000 flee to neighbouring Bangladesh as their villages were burned down by government troops in 2017.

Lingering tensions between the ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and the more than 600,000 Rohingya still living in Rakhine flared when the government in February recruited Rohingya living in displacement camps to do military service. Both coercion and promises of citizenship were reportedly employed to get them to join.


Source: TRT