YANGON – Nearly 70 soldiers from the Arakan Army (AA) raided a front line post belonging to nationwide ceasefire signatory Arakan Liberation Army (ALA) in Chin State’s Paletwa Township on Tuesday.
The post’s location, near the intersecting border of Myanmar, Bangladesh and India, is around four miles from Chin Let Wa village, located in a heavily forested area. The fresh clashes mark the first such incident between the two Arakanese armed groups since the AA set up strongholds in northern Rakhine State in 2015.
U Khine Aung Soe Than, secretary general of the ALA’s political wing the Arakan Liberation Party, confirmed to The Irrawaddy on Tuesday that fighting had broken out the day before and that the ALA had lost the territory.
A statement by the group released on Wednesday said that two ALA soldiers were killed in the attack, three were “severely” wounded, and two more were missing.
According to U Khine Aung So Than, the ALA unit in the camp had just 20 soldiers and they withdrew from the base as AA soldiers surrounded them and began the assault.
“Clashes are continually happening today, even though the ALA pulled back its unit,” he said.
He speculated that AA troops likely used artillery weapons including 60-mm mortar shells and rocket-propelled grenades to secure the post. He also recalled an incident that occurred days earlier, in which two ALA soldiers were reportedly detained by the AA when they came to report to their new post’s commander.
In the days which followed, he added that two more soldiers were captured by the AA in a Ka Ki village monastery, situated on the Indian side of the border.
“Our leader, Khine Soe Naing Aung, already sent a letter to talk about the fresh clashes but there have been no replies from the AA’s side. We have no idea what the reason is for fighting against the ALA,” said Rakhine State-based U Khine Aung Soe Than.
The AA’s spokesman U Khine Thukha, a former leader of the ALP, could not be reached for comment on Wednesday. Another high-ranking member of AA, Thailand-based Col Kyaw Han, refused to speak on the reports of skirmishes with the ALA.
Ethnic affairs expert U Maung Maung Soe remarked that clashes occasionally happen between ethnic armed groups.
“Fighting can occur at any time, maybe because of territorial problems or because of different political directions,” he said.
He pointed out that the AA possesses strong support from the ethnic Arakanese population, and speculated that fresh fighting against the ALA would not likely harm its popularity.
Both the AA’s commander-in-chief Brig-Gen Tun Myat Naing and Vice Chief of Staff Dr. Nyo Tun Aung have been attending a conference of northeastern armed groups in Panghsang, the administrative capital of the United Wa State Army-controlled area in Shan State, since earlier this week.
On May 4, the AA issued a “warning letter” written in the Arakanese language on its official Facebook page, alleging that 30 soldiers from the Arakan Liberation Army (ALA) had posed as AA soldiers and extorted money from locals near the Bangladeshi border. Moreover, the AA accused troops from the same group of pretending to be Myanmar Army soldiers and collecting “protection money” from residents of Garam Pa village in early May.
The letter said, “We are closely watching the group and the AA will respond with appropriate action if the same conduct happens in the future.”