YANGON—At least nine security personnel including a police major were killed by the Arakan Army (AA) in a series of coordinated attacks on four border outposts in northern Rakhine State’s restive Buthidaung Township early Friday morning.
Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun from the Office of the Commander in Chief confirmed the deadly attacks, following an announcement in the afternoon by the AA.
Police Major Sai Bo Han from Kyaung Taung border outpost was among those shot dead during the clashes.
The AA also announced that it had taken 14 security personnel prisoner. It said two Army helicopters had attacked its fighters and nearly struck the captive government personnel, though it did not specify the location of that attack. The ethnic armed group said it would release details of the fighting soon, including information on the helicopter attacks on its positions.
Brig-Gen. Zaw Min Tun could not confirm the number of government security personnel that had been captured by the AA, but said some are still missing in the region. He said four border outposts were attacked simultaneously by more than 100 AA troops. Government soldiers and Border Police officers had successfully restored order at all four locations by the afternoon, he said.
“About nine security personnel were killed. We are still trying to get details from the scene and will release more specific information as soon as possible,” Brig-Gen. Zaw Min Tun said.
The Army official said that the four outposts were located in the ethnic Arakanese villages of Kyaung Taung, Nga Myin Taw, Ka Htee La and Kone Myint in northern Buthidaung Township. He said that the outposts are not as well defended as Border Police regimental stations, adding that on-duty officers are deployed there to provide security for “Na Ta La” villages. “Na Ta La” refers to the Development of Border Areas and National Races, a village project set up in the early 1990s under the regime of former General Than Shwe.
“Such attacks on small outposts are really bad, because they are there mainly to ensure the safety of ethnic villagers,” Brig-Gen. Zaw Min Tun said.
AA spokesman U Khine Thukha earlier told The Irrawaddy that the Myanmar Army had brought ordinary and Border Police units into active conflict zones as part of its “Four Cuts” counterinsurgency strategy. The policy was developed in the 1970s during the regime of the Burmese Socialist Programme Party with the intention of undermining ethnic militias by cutting off access to food, funds, information and recruitment.
The spokesman was quoted in a local media report as saying that the AA attacked the smaller outposts because they were jointly operated by Myanmar Army and Border Police personnel. He said the Border Police were helping the military conduct heavy artillery attacks at the front in northern Rakhine. In late December, the AA delivered three letters—each containing one bullet—to a police officer, a businessman and a village administrator in Buthidaung Township warning them not to disturb AA supporters.
High-ranking military officers have denied that there is a military command present in the conflict zone in Buthidaung, but some local residents told The Irrawaddy that Light Infantry Unit 552 is currently deployed there. The unit is under the Taung Bazar-based No. 15 military command.
According to local non-profit organizations operating in the area, more than 4,000 residents of four townships in Rakhine State are currently displaced by conflict. Local relief groups are providing humanitarian assistance to the internally displaced persons, they said.