Arakan Army gains ground in Rakhine conflict, seizes control of Paletwa and other towns

Reports emerging from Myanmar on Thursday have indicated that an ethnic army in the country has launched an attack on yet another major city in the west, with...

Reports emerging from Myanmar on Thursday have indicated that an ethnic army in the country has launched an attack on yet another major city in the west, with the state’s capital not far behind. The Arakan Army (AA), a rebel group, has intensified its fighting against Myanmar’s army in the strategically significant city of Sittwe in Rakhine province. This area holds particular importance due to India’s construction of a port for connectivity to its northeastern states via the Bay of Bengal.

The recent offensive by the Arakan Army follows their Operation 1027 offensive against junta forces in late October. Since then, they have gained territorial advantages against the State Administration Council (SAC) forces in Rakhine State, leading to indiscriminate attacks on civilians by SAC troops.

Read here: ‘Operation 1027’ and new conflict narrative in Myanmar, where does China stand?

The conflict between the Myanmar military and the ethnic Rakhine armed organization (EAO) resumed on November 13, 2023, breaking a year-long ceasefire. By January 14, 2024, the AA declared the capture of Paletwa township in neighboring Chin State from SAC control, followed by securing complete control of Pauktaw township in Rakhine.

The Arakan Army continued its campaign of seizing junta camps, making significant gains. On February 11, they captured another border camp in Maungdaw Township and three camps in Minbya Township. This operation resulted in the seizure of hundreds of weapons and two multiple rocket launchers, with 30 troops reported killed. Presently, the AA is advancing in Yanbwe and Buthidaung Townships.

Additionally, on February 12, the AA successfully sank a fourth junta navy ship in a coastal river at Minbya Township, which is under AA control.  Following the sinking, AA troops rescued junta soldiers from the Kalatan River, including two commanders, as depicted in a widely circulated video.

The Arakan Army asserts control over seven towns, including Kyauktaw, Myauk Oo, Minbya, Pauktaw, Myepon, Taungpyoletweh in Maungdaw Township, and Paletwa in southern Chin State. Notably, Pauktaw is situated approximately 20 kilometers from the state capital, Sittwe. In Kyauktaw and Paletwa, the AA has complete control over the entire townships, having expelled all junta troops.

AA’s strategic gains and Junta’s retaliatory measures

The ongoing conflict has led the junta to activate a military draft on February 10, requiring young men aged 18-35 and women aged 18-27 to serve two years in the army. This announcement has sparked mass anxiety among youths and parents, prompting efforts to evade conscription. Reports indicate that many young people are willing to take extreme measures rather than fight for the junta.

In response to the draft, resistance forces are experiencing a surge in applications to join their ranks. However, the junta has resorted to kidnapping young men traveling between cities, leading to a significant decline in traffic on major roads. Reports suggest that the Thai embassy is inundated with visa requests, and hundreds have been caught crossing the border to evade conscription.

To prevent further flight, the junta has imposed travel restrictions and requires special approval for purchasing plane and bus tickets in some areas. Instances of troops demanding bribes for allowing families to escape the draft have also been reported in Bago Region.

The Arakan Army, already holding sway over three townships in Rakhine state, initiated an attack on the coastal township of Rathedaung on Wednesday, as reported by local residents. They further stated that junta authorities are retaliating across the coastal region through aerial, terrestrial, and maritime means. The Arakan Army disclosed on Wednesday that Kha Naung Gyi, Ywar Thit Kay, and Nwar Tin Koke were the initial targets of their ambush.

After the termination of a year-long ceasefire with junta forces in November, the Arakan Army has gained control over three townships – the historical hub of Mrauk-U, Minbya, and Kyauktaw. Moreover, they have seized the city of Pauktaw, Taung Pyo military outpost along the Bangladesh border, and the adjoining Paletwa city in Chin state.

Additionally, the Arakan Army successfully took over the Western Regional Headquarters in Kyauktaw, one of the three junta strongholds in the state, on Monday. The swift progress of the Arakan Army has prompted military families loyal to the junta to evacuate Sittwe, capitalizing on the limited flights to major cities like Yangon, Naypyitaw, and Mandalay. To impede the Arakan Army’s advance, the junta destroyed bridges leading into Sittwe and Taungkut, located in southern Arakan State, on February 16, signifying the widening reach of the Arakan Army beyond the north and central regions of Arakan.

The territorial acquisitions by the Arakan Army in Paletwa, Pauktaw, Minbya, Maybone, Mrauk-U, and Kyauktaw mark a development in their confrontations with the SAC forces in Rakhine State. These advancements coincide with China’s mediation efforts for a ceasefire between the SAC and the Three Brotherhood Alliance in northern Myanmar. The victories of the Arakan Army might fuel momentum for armed resistance efforts in other parts of the country, further straining SAC troops nationwide.

Read also: India’s border pivot: Fencing the Indo-Myanmar border and the Free Movement Regime

 

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