YANGON—The Myanmar military conducted air strikes using two attack helicopters, as well as artillery shelling, against Arakan Army (AA) rebels in northern Rakhine State’s rural Minbya and Mrauk-U townships on Thursday and Friday.
U Hla Thein Aung, an Arakan National Party lawmaker in the Rakhine State Parliament from Minbya, said the fighting between the two sides lasted nearly all day on Thursday. He said two or three attack helicopters launched hellfire missiles and bombarded the Kalama mountain range, where AA guerrilla forces are believed to be stationed.
The lawmaker said the battle zone is situated 3 miles northeast of Pan Myaung model village in Minbya. He said the frontline is just 1 or 2 miles from Shwe Kyin village, which is home to more than 1,800 people.
Rakhine Ethnic Congress secretary Ko Zaw Zaw Tun said the air strikes caused some residents of neighboring villages like Shwe Kyin, Dai Tha and Kyaung Taung to flee their homes for safer locations on Thursday and Friday. He said his group was informed by locals that Thursday’s fighting was heavy and lasted almost the whole day.
According to an Arakan Army (AA) update, the fighting began when more than 200 infantry troops from the Myanmar military (or Tatmadaw) approached AA-controlled areas in Dai Tha village at about 10:00 a.m. on Thursday, and lasted until 7:00 p.m. The battles took place 500 and 1,800 meters to the southeast of Dai Tha village.
The AA claimed to have killed at least 50 Myanmar military soldiers, while adding that three of its own fighters were killed and a number were injured during the heavy clashes. It said the significant losses prompted the military to call in two attack helicopters, which fired on forested areas using missiles and machine guns. The ethnic armed group did not say which Myanmar military battalion or division it fought on Thursday.
The Irrawaddy could not independently verify the AA’s casualty figures. Brigadier General Win Zaw Oo of the Tatmadaw’s Western Command merely said the military carries out air strikes depending on the battle situation. He declined to provide casualty figures.
The Myanmar Army conducted air assaults against rebels who attacked an army infantry base in Mrauk-U and a police regiment in April, and again in a rural area of Buthidaung in July. Also in April, army helicopter attacks killed at least six Rohingya day laborers who were harvesting bamboo near Buthidaung’s Saidin Waterfall.
As the number of skirmishes between the military and the AA has not decreased during the monsoon season, some lawmakers and conflict watchdog groups expect the fighting will intensify significantly at the end of the rainy season.
The military’s unilaterally imposed ceasefire in five of its regional commands, excluding Rakhine, is due to end next week. During a press conference held by the Tatmadaw True News Information Team in Naypyitaw on Friday, Major-General Soe Naing Oo said whether or not there will be another extension of the ceasefire depends on the actions of the ethnic armed organizations.
“Will they come to join the peace talks? We welcome them. Do they want to continue fighting? We are ready,” he said.
Arakanese lawmaker U Hla Thein Aung urged the National League for Democracy (NLD)-led government to immediately facilitate a political dialogue between the two warring parties, emphasizing the plight of innocent civilians living in the war zone in Rakhine.
“People here are in a lot trouble. The government is not helping the IDPs [internally displaced persons] much; in fact they have restricted international humanitarian aid to IDPs on the ground,” U Hla Thein Aung said.
In recent days, the Rakhine State government barred the International Committee of the Red Cross from distributing rice to some IDP camps in rural Mrauk-U. Armed conflict in the state has displaced more than 60,000 people since early this year.
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