Fighting in Myanmar’s Rakhine State Claims Military Casualties, Causes Civilians to Flee

A bus passes a sign marking the entrance to Mrauk-U township in western Myanmar's Rakhine state in an undated photo.

Fierce fighting erupted Sunday between the Myanmar military and the Arakan Army (AA) in two townships in western Myanmar’s volatile Rakhine state, with disputed reports of military casualties on both sides, spokesmen for the warring armies said, while state lawmakers submitted an emergency proposal to petition the central government to restore regional internet service after it was cut off as a security measure.

The morning clash occurred on a mountain range near Ghahtar Taung Dam, northeast of Kyauk Kyar village in Mrauk-U township, when Myanmar troops attacked the AA from helicopters.

Arakan troops, who seek greater autonomy in the state, ambushed a Myanmar military column of about 100 soldiers, resulting in a loss of lives, AA spokesman Khine Thukha said.

“The enemy lost more than 20 [soldiers], and many of them were injured,” he said. “The Myanmar Army has been shelling continuously throughout the day.”

Two AA soldiers were injured during the clash, he added.

RFA could not independently confirm the AA’s claim about casualties among Myanmar troops.

Myanmar military spokesman Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun confirmed the clash on Sunday, but denied any casualties among government troops.

“There was a battle yesterday morning between Kyauktaw and Mrauk-U,” he said. “It occurred while our troops were maintaining security in the area. We had no causalities, but we seized two weapons from [the AA] side.”

The fighting that took place northeast of Kyauk Kyar village prompted hundreds of civilians to flee their homes, said Tun Thar Sein, a lawmaker representing the township in the Rakhine state parliament.

“Some returned home after the fighting stopped, but others did not and continued to stay at the Buddhist monastery in [neighboring] Kyauktaw [township's] Ywamabyin village,” he said. “There must be around 300.”

During a separate skirmish in Minbya township on Sunday, Myanmar troops captured an AA outpost, Zaw Min Tun said, though RFA could not independently confirm this.

"There was a battle near Khamaung Wa village in Minbya township," he said. "We overran an AA outpost. I don't know exactly if helicopters were used. They probably could have been. A [dead] body and three guns were seized during the search."

Khine Thukha said the Myanmar Army launched the offensive in the same area where clashes occurred on June 21 and 22.

“Two helicopters came and bombed,” he said. “We didn’t have any causalities in the fighting, but we don’t know about the enemy.”

Rockets hit military tugboat

On Saturday, three AA rockets hit a Myanmar Navy tugboat moored at the mouth of Satyokya Creek in Rakhine state’s capital Sittwe, reportedly killing two soldiers and injuring another, military spokesman Zaw Min Tun told the online journal The Irrawaddy,

Police have arrested six civilians in connection with the attack, including two young men from a displaced persons camp at Kayuchaung Monastery and four others from the compound where the rockets were fired, said state lawmaker Aye Thein who represents Sittwe township.

“The two young men are Soe Naing Linn and Maung Kyan Thu,” he said. “The others are Aung Naing Win and three of his family members who guard the compound.”

The arrested boys’ aunt, Hla Hla Nu, told RFA that her nephews went to the creek to go fishing.

“These two kids went to the creek for fishing at nightfall,” she said. “They returned to the refugee camp in the monastery around 10 p.m. The next morning around 10 a.m. five policemen in plainclothes from the No. 1 Myoma Police Station came and took the boys away. They said they needed to question them.”

A CCTV security camera recorded the two boys returning from their outing, Hla Hla Nu said.

They are now being questioned at the district police commander’s office following an interrogation at the police station, she added.

Deputy Commander Maung Maung Soe from Rakhine State Police told RFA that police are questioning the pair according to criminal procedures, but that he didn’t know the exact number of people being held for questioning.

Authorities also rounded up for questioning Sunday night more than 30 laborers working at the compound from which the AA rockets were fired, but released them the next morning, one of those detained said.

“Around 6 p.m. last night, we were taken to the police station,” said the laborer who declined to be identified out of fear of repercussions. “They interrogated us at the police station. They said it was about the explosion. They recorded our answers. They asked many questions about the explosion. We had to sleep at the station. They released us this morning around 8 a.m.”

AA spokesman Khine Thukha told RFA on Sunday that Arakan fighters launched the attack because the boat was being used to transport reinforcements for military troops in the region.

He also said that the civilians detained by authorities were not involved with the ethnic army.

“The people who have been rounded up are all civilians,” he said. “None of them have connections to us. As usual, the Myanmar military is carrying out arbitrary arrests to charge civilians in retaliation after they lost their soldiers. None of the people they have arrested belong to the AA.”

Zaw Min Tun said the attack has hindered the military from ensuring the safety of vessels that use the public waterway.

“We are taking care of security in the city,” he said. “The attack occurred on the waterway that enters into Sittwe city. It is the area commonly used by passenger boats. This attack is a hindrance for our work on securing safety in public transportation.”

Internet service cuts in Rakhine

Meanwhile, the Rakhine state parliament on Monday submitted an urgent motion to appeal to the central government for the resumption of internet service in eight townships after it was temporarily shut down earlier this week because of the fighting, two lawmakers said.

Lawmakers will discuss the motion on Wednesday.

Myanmar’s Ministry of Transport and Communications ordered telecommunication providers to disconnectinternet service in Ponnagyun, Kyauktaw, Maungdaw, Buthidaung, Rathedaung, Mrauk-U, Minbya, and Myebon townships in Rakhine state and in Paletwa township in neighboring Chin State, where the national army is engaged in armed conflict with the AA.

Some township r