AA Claims Myanmar Military Deploys Helicopters After Taking Major Losses

By Min Aung Khine 17 October 2019

SITTWE, Rakhine State—Myanmar military forces attacked the Arakan Army (AA) with helicopters on mountains near the village of Aung Ma Kyaw in Rakhine State’s Ponnagyun Township on Thursday around noon, according to local residents.

Renewed clashes erupted between the two sides at Mt. Yaung Yin near Aung Ma Kyaw Village, to the west of the Yangon-Sittwe highway, on Wednesday morning.

“Fighting has been taking place since yesterday,” said U Hla Maung of Myat Hle Village, which is located near Aung Ma Kyaw.

“I saw helicopters flying over the mountain. I saw two helicopters coming from Buthidaung and attack twice. I heard [the gunshots] and it was as if the world were collapsing,” he told The Irrawaddy.

According to local residents, Light Infantry Battalion 539 and Artillery Battalion 377, based near Kan Sauk Village, had been providing government troops with artillery support since noon on Wednesday.

“[Myanmar military forces] near our village have been shelling since yesterday and it was deafening. Today, our villagers dare not go outside for work,” Ko Phyu Lone of Kan Sauk Village told The Irrawaddy.

The AA’s information department said the ethnic armed group engaged with the Myanmar military around 2 km north of Aung Ma Kyaw Village in Ponnagyun Township beginning at 8 a.m. on Wednesday.

Colonel Win Zaw Oo, a spokesperson for the Myanmar military’s Western Command, confirmed the clashes in Ponnagyun but said he did not know about any helicopter attacks.

The AA said in a statement that the Myanmar military has suffered more than 40 casualties over six days of fighting from Oct. 11-16 in Buthidaung, Ponnagyun, Kyauktaw, Mrauk-U and Minbya townships in northern Rakhine State. The ethnic armed group said it suffered only a few casualties in the clashes.

Col. Win Zaw Oo denied the AA’s claim about the Myanmar military’s losses, calling it propaganda.

The number of local people displaced by clashes in northern Rakhine has been increasing and the government is facing pressure for its failure to take responsibility for the safety and wellbeing of displaced people.

According to the Rakhine Ethnic Congress (REC), more than 60,000 people are now displaced by clashes in northern Rakhine.

Though the Rakhine State government has said it plans to provide shelter for displaced persons, those who fled their homes are still living in makeshift tents.

The REC said in a statement in July that 63 civilians have been killed since January in clashes, while 53 were injured by explosions from landmines and unexploded ordnance. The statement also said nine people have gone missing and 156 people have been abducted, without mentioning any details.

Many more have been killed, injured and detained since the REC’s last released statistics; the latest figures are still unknown.

The clashes between the Myanmar military and the AA broke out in November of last year in Chin State’s Paletwa Township and then spread across northern Rakhine. Despite recent peace talks, military tensions remain high between the two sides.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko