Thursday, February 22nd 2024

Arakan Army fighters claim control of port town in Myanmar

  • By: Web Master
  • | Date: 25 January 2024
  • | Viewer: 2.8k

Dhaka Tribune, AFP

Update : 25 Jan 2024, 05:06 PM


Fighters from a Myanmar ethnic minority armed group have seized control of a port town after more than two months of intense clashes with junta troops, they said.


The Arakan Army (AA) said on late Wednesday it "completely controlled" Pauktaw, a town of 20,000 people close to a crucial deepwater port in the capital of western Rakhine state.


AA fighters briefly seized Pauktaw in November, shattering a fragile ceasefire that had largely held since the military's coup in 2021.


The junta has used artillery and naval ships to bombard the town almost daily since, and strafed it with gunfire from helicopters, residents have told AFP.


New Google Earth images of Pauktaw showed a block of the downtown area reduced almost entirely to rubble and damage to several buildings near its harbour.


Several buildings in the police station compound were destroyed too. Junta troops had left the town by boat on the evening of January 19, a source close to the AA told AFP, requesting anonymity.


AA fighters had set up checkpoints around the town and on Thursday exchanged fire with a military naval vessel, the source said.


AFP was unable to confirm the AA claim, and communications with Pauktaw remained patchy. A source close to the AA told AFP earlier this week that its fighters were conducting "clearance operations" in the town. The junta has not commented on recent clashes in Pauktaw.


Around 18,000 people had been displaced from the area due to fighting, the United Nations said in November.


Pauktaw is 25 kilometres east of the state capital Sittwe, home to a deepwater port partly financed by India as it seeks to deepen economic linkages with Myanmar.


Earlier this week, Myanmar's chambers of commerce hosted talks with an Indian business delegation on "upgrading" operations at Sittwe port, junta-backed media reported on Thursday.


Travel between Sittwe and Pauktaw was severely restricted by new military gates and checkpoints, a Pauktaw resident currently in Sittwe told AFP on Thursday, requesting anonymity for security reasons.

In its Wednesday statement, the AA said "intense" clashes were ongoing in Mrauk-U, Minbya, Kyauktaw and Rathedaung townships in Rakhine, without giving details.


The AA has fought an on-and-off war for years, seeking more autonomy for the state's ethnic Rakhine population.


It is one of dozens of ethnic minority armed groups that have battled Myanmar's military since independence from Britain in 1948.


Some groups want greater autonomy, while others simply want the right to run the lucrative trade in jade, drugs and timber in their territory.


The clashes in Rakhine come as the military and ethnic minority armed groups in northern Shan state accuse each other of breaching a China-brokered ceasefire.


Fighting had raged along the border with China since late October, with the military losing control of several towns and vital trade crossings to its northern neighbour.


File photo: Arakan Army (AA) troops in Taung Shay Taung outpost. Photo: Collected

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