YANGON—The Myanmar military used an attack helicopter to conduct air strikes during fighting with the Arakan Army (AA) in a rural area of conflict-ridden northern Rakhine’s Buthidaung Township on Thursday, according to local residents and the AA.
According to the AA’s battle update on Wednesday, a Myanmar military (or Tatmadaw) helicopter conducted bombardment and machine-gun strikes against AA rebels twice in the afternoon near Buthidaung’s Kan Pyin village after a Tatmadaw infantry unit sustained heavy losses in the area. The AA said it was the second time the Myanmar military had conducted a major air attack in the north of Rakhine since June 23.
The village is situated more than 1o kilometers south of downtown Buthidaung. The AA website did not offer casualty figures for the Kan Pyin clash but claimed that in a separate clash in Ponnagyun Township on the same day AA fighters killed about 10 Tatmadaw personnel under the command of Light Infantry Division No. 22 in a guerilla-style ambush.
A high-ranking AA official said, “When casualties are especially high on the ground, they conduct airstrikes.”
Military spokesman Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun said the fighting erupted near Nwar Yon Taung, a neighboring village of Kan Pyin, and resulted in casualties on both sides. However, he denied the Army conducted air strikes on Wednesday.
Ethnic affairs analyst U Maung Maung Soe said he had heard reports of intense fighting between the military and the AA on Thursday. He said the clashes may have involved more than 100 troops on each side.
A Buthidaung resident whose family members are currently trapped in the conflict zone by intense fighting near Hpon Nyo Leik village told The Irrawaddy that the Tatmadaw’s Buthidaung-based battalion No. 551 conducted shelling operations from Wednesday afternoon to Thursday morning.
The resident said that several military trucks carrying dozens of soldiers, including some high-ranking officers, were seen driving from Buthidaung town toward active conflict zones near Chit Shar Taung and Say Taung villages at about 1 p.m. The Buthidaung-Rathedaung Highway was in lockdown by the military on Thursday afternoon.
He said hundreds of residents of Hpon Nyo Leik, Kan Pyin, Say Taung and Kyauk Yant villages had fled to safer locations. Details on the newly displaced villagers were scarce as eight townships in northern Rakhine remain without internet access on the orders of the National League for Democracy (NLD)-led Union government.
In a bid to have the internet blackout in war-torn northern Rakhine lifted, Daw Khin Saw Wai, a Lower House lawmaker for the Arakan National Party, on Thursday submitted an urgent motion to discuss the measure in Parliament. The Lower House speaker ignored the motion, however.
“An urgent proposal [to the parliament] has been rejected,” reads a post on Daw Khin Saw Wai’s Facebook page.
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