YANGON—Myanmar’s army said it had rescued 14 people seized by insurgents in restive Rakhine state after Arakan Army (AA) rebels reported many dead in military attacks on boats carrying soldiers and police said it had taken prisoners.
The escalation in bloodshed is one of the biggest in the western state since fighting intensified early this year between the army and the rebels demanding greater autonomy for Rakhine.
“Of those abducted by the Arakan Army, 14 people have now been rescued,” the military said in a statement late on Sunday. “The military is continuing a combined air and land operation to rescue the remaining people abducted as soon as possible.”
The ethnic armed group on Saturday took prisoner more than 50 people, most belonging to the security forces. It said troops opened fire on Sunday on three vessels where the group was being held in Rathedaung township, sinking two and damaging one.
“Many were killed as there was no cover from incoming fire,” the rebel group said in a statement.
There was no independent account of casualties.
Local member of parliament Daw Khin Saw Wai told Reuters fighting in Rathedaung had been too intense to go there on Sunday and many people had fled for neighbouring villagers after jet fighters flew overhead.
The AA rebels draw on deep-seated historical resentment felt by some in Rakhine toward the ethnic Bamar majority that dominates the central government, and their sense that Myanmar’s faltering transition to democracy has not brought enough benefits.
Sunday’s abduction was the second in recent weeks by the rebel group, which recruits from the mostly Buddhist local majority.
Suspected rebels disguised as sports players had boarded a bus in the state this month and took hostage dozens of firefighters and civilians.