More than 100 Myanmar military soldiers including officers have defected to the Arakan Army (AA), both before and after renewed fighting erupted between the two sides in Rakhine State, said the AA’s spokesperson.
Some 10 junta soldiers, including officers, fighting at the front line in Chin State’s Paletwa Township, which neighbors Rakhine State in western Myanmar, have defected to the AA since the return to armed conflict, said the AA spokesman.
“At least 10 [junta soldiers] including officers in Paletwa have defected along with their arms since the renewed fighting. There were also defections even before the fighting,” said AA spokesperson Khaing Thukha during a press conference on Monday.
Another 90-odd junta troops defected to the AA in Rakhine State before fighting resumed in May. More regime soldiers are expected to defect to the AA, added Khaing Thukha.
Military tensions have been running high in Rakhine State since May with regime forces arresting Rakhine residents on suspicion of having ties to the AA, a powerful ethnic Rakhine armed organization.
The two sides have traded arrests over recent weeks following the resumption of hostilities in Rakhine and Paletwa, after 16 months of relative calm following an informal ceasefire reached ahead of the November 2020 general election.
Paletwa has seen sporadic clashes since May. They have intensified since August with frequent fighting along the Myanmar-India border to the northwest of Paletwa Town, as well as in the north of Maungdaw Township in Rakhine State along the Myanmar-Bangladesh frontier.
The military regime has blocked access to land and water transport routes in a number of townships in the region, including Maungdaw and Paletwa, causing shortages of food and other vital items for residents. Phone and internet services are also restricted in those townships.
A number of junta bases, including the Myeik Wa outpost near the border of Myanmar, Bangladesh and India, are under siege from the AA, which is also ambushing convoys of reinforcements and supplies to regime bases. Junta forces have launched air and artillery strikes as the regime attempts to retake bases it has lost and defend the ones it still holds, said the AA.
Numerous junta outposts along the border have been seized by the AA. On August 31, the AA captured a border guard police base at mile post No. 40 on the Myanmar-Bangladesh border in Maungdaw Township, as well as seizing a hilltop outpost on September 10.
The AA has also captured a hilltop tactical command base in Paletwa after a three month siege, added the AA. The base near Than Htaung Village overlooks the Lemyo River, a crucial transportation route that links Mrauk-U and Minbya in Rakhine with Chin State.
“For now we are gaining the upper hand, but the regime is reinforcing continuously. Clashes are likely to intensify in the weeks to come,” said AA spokesperson Khaing Thukha, who estimated that between 9,000 and 10,000 junta troops are now deployed in Maungdaw.
Over 30 junta soldiers have been killed in recent clashes and a number of weapons were captured, according to the AA. The Irrawaddy could not verify junta casualties independently or obtain a comment from the regime.