YANGON—The Myanmar Amy reportedly forced local boat owners to transport troops to the conflict zone in northern Rakhine State’s Buthidaung Township, where civilians have been caught in the crossfire in recent clashes with the Arakan Army (AA).
Government soldiers were ambushed by AA guerillas while traveling in five boats from Myo Ma Chaung village to a location on the upper Sai Din River in Buthidaung Township. The area is a popular destination among locals visiting the Sai Din waterfall. Some residents of neighboring Kyar Nyo Pyin village told The Irrawaddy over the phone that a high-ranking officer commandeered five vessels, three owned by Muslims and two belonging to Arakanese.
Arakanese boat driver Aung Kyaw Tun was shot in the hand. Farmer U Thein Maung from Lay Myo village, who spends most of his time farming and working on a plantation near the Sai Din River, said the fighting occurred near his hut. He said 50 soldiers were patrolling the Sai Din River in the five boats. He saw at least three or four soldiers being carried by Myanmar Army (or Tatmadaw) troops, but it was unclear whether they had been killed. The wounded boat driver has been receiving medical treatment since early this week.
“I have never seen this kind of fighting before,” U Thein Maung said. “The artillery explosions were very loud; I just lay on the floor of my hut.”
The clash occurred a few miles from Buthidaung Township’s Military Operation Command (15) based in Da Pyu Chaung. The Army announced last week that some high-ranking officers and soldiers had been killed in recent clashes with the AA in Buthidaung Township without elaborating.
Adul Wahid, a Muslim resident of Buthidaung’s Du Oe Thei Ma village, said Muslim boat owners were forced to transport military personnel to the battlefield. Unconfirmed reports spread among Muslim residents that a military commander had been killed in the fighting with the AA on Monday. Since then, according to the reports, an Army artillery unit had been randomly firing into the mountains.
“As the skirmishes happened in the mountains, villagers were ordered to stay away from the forest,” Adul Wahid said.
While the armed clashes broke out near ethnic Rakhine villages, some of the Rohingya villages in the area that were spared during the military’s 2017 clearance operations are now frightened of further attacks, Adul Wahid said. Border police and Army troops ordered the Muslim villagers not to visit neighboring Arakanese villages for any reason for a period of time. A curfew has been imposed banning locals from going out at night and gathering.
Army troops and AA rebels fought again the next day near Kan Pyin village, and more than 200 villagers fled to neighboring Say Taung village as shells exploded nearby. U Maung Kyaw Khine from Say Taung told The Irrawaddy over the phone that more than 200 villagers took shelter at Say Taung monastery, but had left by Thursday after being ordered to go home by border police.
Based in Kachin State’s Laiza, the AA in early 2015 entered Rakhine State and since established a secure foothold in areas on Myanmar’s western border. The AA and two allied non-signatories to the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement, the Ta’ang Nationalities Liberation Army and the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army announced after meeting with members of the government’s Peace Commission on Wednesday in China’s Yunnan Province that they are willing to stop fighting the military and re-enter peace talks led by State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.