YANGON—The Arakan Army (AA) said on Saturday it had released 14 Border Police officers and four civilian women captured during coordinated attacks on four border outposts in northern Rakhine State’s Buthidaung Township a day earlier.
The group said it released the captives in line with international rules on the treatment of prisoners of war.
The Ministry of Information (MOI) said yesterday that 14 policemen were killed and 9 wounded, and 40 firearms and more than 10,000 rounds of ammunition seized, when the outposts came under attack by more than 300 AA rebels in Buthidaung early on Friday morning. On Friday, the Army had initially reported that nine security personnel had been killed.
According to a ministry statement, despite the arrival of reinforcements from the No. 8 Border Police Regiment and Myanmar military (or Tatmadaw) units, personnel stationed at the outposts were unable to resist the massive AA attack and retreated to two other outposts. The entire populations of four nearby villages fled to safer locations. Authorities were trying to contact them on Saturday.
The MOI statement reads: “The AA’s actions tend to complicate and destabilize the situation in Rakhine. Members of the security forces will take effective action against the AA.”
The AA announced the prisoner release via its information page yesterday. It accused the Myanmar military of using excessive force, including attack helicopters and heavy artillery, and of bringing police regiments into conflict zones, in order to combat AA units in Kyauk Taw, Rathedaung and Buthidaung, as well as areas along Myanmar’s borders with Bangladesh and India, for almost two months.
The armed group said: “There is almost daily fighting in the Rakhine region, and the number of internally displaced persons is mounting rapidly.”
The military’s use of the “four cuts” strategy and excessive force on the battlefield had forced it to mount the simultaneous attacks on the four border outposts in Buthidaung Township on Friday, it said. The “four cuts” policy was developed in the 1970s during the regime of the Burmese Socialist Programme Party with the intention of undermining ethnic militias by cutting off access to food, funds, information and recruitment.
The AA also accused police in Rakhine State of arbitrary arrests and imprisonment of Arakanese youth without proper reason, and of helping the military to implement the “four cuts” strategy instead of confining itself to conventional police duties despite warnings by the AA.
On Saturday, the Myanmar Army used two helicopters to retake the four border outposts from AA troops. Some residents of nearby villages were reportedly injured in the helicopter attacks on AA positions.
The AA has acknowledged that three of its fighters were killed and some injured in recent armed clashes with the Tatmadaw in northern Rakhine.
Pro-military commentators and senior military personnel took to Facebook yesterday to accuse the AA of forming in alliance with the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA). Some local publications also published the accusations, which appear to be hearsay and not based in fact.
The AA categorically denied having any allies in its frontline activities in Rakhine, saying it is implementing the Arakan National Movement, which it said was the dream of the entire Arakan nation. It said the AA is the only armed organization fighting to drive Burmese “colonists” from Rakhine.
According to local relief groups, internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the region now number about 4,500. It is believed the actual figure could be even higher, however, as some of the displaced villagers are not sheltering in designated IDP camps.