YANGON—The Arakan Army (AA) on Monday warned private bus companies in Rakhine State not to transport Myanmar Army troops after learning that the military was using private vehicles in addition to its own trucks to move its personnel into conflict zones.
AA and government troops have clashed on a near daily basis in northern Rakhine State recently. The AA has warned that the fighting is likely to intensify as the Myanmar military (or Tatmadaw) has poured additional light infantry battalions into the area in order to crush the group. The recently added troops are from the Tatmadaw’s 22nd, 55th and 99th divisions based in lower Myanmar.
The AA told all private transport companies to report their passenger information to the AA in a timely manner via email or the Viber social media platform. It said it would not be responsible for what happened to those highway coach owners who failed to follow the order. It also urged the Arakanese public to avoid traveling in the region at night and to steer clear of private vehicles carrying soldiers.
The AA claimed responsibility for mine blasts involving two coaches in Ponnagyun Township on Sunday, saying the vehicles were carrying Tatmadaw troops from Sittwe to a location in northern Rakhine State. The Irrawaddy viewed footage that went viral online showing two express coaches as they were stuck by the mines. In a previous statement, the AA claimed that one of the vehicles was forced to return to Sittwe to seek medical treatment for wounded passengers.
Sources in the transport business in Sittwe confirmed to The Irrawaddy that the Tatmadaw had hired coaches belonging to the Gissapa Nadi and Shwe Lamin companies for use in military transport, and that on the way to its destination, the Gissapa Nadi coach, with vehicle plate No. 9I-4701, struck an AA landmine in Ponnagyun Township.
The owner of Gissapa Nadi declined to comment over the phone on Tuesday out of concern for his safety and the welfare of his business.
“I don’t want to say anything at this moment because both sides [of the conflict] pose risks for businesspeople like us,” he said.
Ko Maung Maung Naing, the operator of the Aung Thitsar Highway Express company, which operates several routes between Yangon and Rakhine, said his line was not interested in transporting government officials or Army troops unless they guaranteed the safety of his vehicles and covered all damages. He declined to comment on the AA’s Tuesday announcement.
“As far as I know, Sunday’s attack did not target civilian vehicles,” Ko Maung Maung Naing said.
In an interview with The Irrawaddy Burmese edition on Monday, Brigadier-General Zaw Min Tun of the Office of the Commander-in-Chief denied the mine incident. AA rebels and Army troops clashed for almost the whole day on Tuesday along the Yangon-Sittwe Highway.
As fighting continued to intensify between the AA and government forces across northern Rakhine and in Chin State’s upper Paletwa Township, the Indian army deployed some 500 soldiers near the Myanmar border in the country’s Mizoram State over the weekend.
In the past one-and-a-half months, armed violence in Rakhine has displaced more than 6,000 villagers. Most of them are relying on humanitarian assistance from local relief groups, as international aid groups are being blocked by the Army, with the exception of the World Food Program and the Red Cross.