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Ethnic rebels deal another blow to Burmese military junta with attacks in country’s west

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  • The Arakan Army, a Burmese ethnic rebel group, has reportedly ambushed two Border Guard Police outposts in Rakhine, a state in the country’s west.
  • The Arakan Army is one of three rebel groups comprising the Three Brotherhood Alliance, which began collaborative efforts to reclaim territory from the military government in Naypyidaw. 
  • Burma has been subject to military rule since early 2021, when a successful coup deposed democratically-elected State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi.

Burma’s military government faced a fresh challenge Monday when one of the armed ethnic groups in an alliance that recently gained strategic territory in the country’s northeast launched attacks in the western state of Rakhine.

The Arakan Army launched surprise assaults on two outposts of the Border Guard Police, a paramilitary force, in Rakhine’s Rathedaung township, according to independent online media and area residents. The attacks took place despite a yearlong cease-fire with Burma’s military government.

Khaing Thukha, a spokesperson for the Arakan Army, told The Associated Press that two military security outposts in Rathedaung were seized by his group and more than 20 police officers from a station in another township, Kyauktaw, had laid down their weapons.

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“Some officers of Myanmar’s army have been arrested,” Khaing Thukha said by phone.

Local media outlets reported fighting between the Arakan Army and the military in Minbya, Maungdaw, Mrauk-U and Kyauktaw townships. The reports said the army blocked all roads in the affected area, and residents in the state’s capital of Sittwe were ordered not to go outside after 9 p.m.

The Arakan Army is the well-trained and well-armed military wing of the Rakhine ethnic minority movement seeking autonomy from the central government. Rakhine is also known by its older name of Arakan. It’s the site of a brutal army counterinsurgency operation in 2017 that drove about 740,000 minority Rohingya Muslims to seek safety across the border in Bangladesh.

MNDAA flag raising

Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army members hoist the group’s flag over a captured army armored vehicle in Burma, Saturday, Oct. 28, 2023. (“The Kokang” online media via AP)

The Arakan Army, along with the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army — calling themselves the Three Brotherhood Alliance — launched a coordinated offensive on Oct. 27 in northern Shan state in northeastern Burma along the border with China.

The alliance has claimed widespread victories and the military government has acknowledged losing control of three towns, one of which is a major border crossing for trade with China. The Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army claimed to have seized another town, Kunlong, on Sunday.

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Burma’s ruling military council declared martial law in eight townships near the Chinese border, the state-controlled Global New Light of Myanmar reported Monday.

The offensive in the northern part of Shan state was already seen as a significant challenge for the army, which has struggled to contain a nationwide uprising by the members of Peoples’ Defense Force. The pro-democracy resistance organization was formed after the army seized power from Aung San Suu Kyi’s elected government in February 2021. It also set up loose alliances with several of the ethnic armed groups.

“If combat persists, it will open a significant new front for the regime, which is already overstretched with fighting, including on its eastern border with China,” Richard Horsey, the senior adviser on Myanmar for the Crisis Group think tank, said in an emailed statement.

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The army-installed acting president, Myint Swe, said at a meeting last week of the state National Defense and Security Council that the country is in critical condition and could split up if the military does not effectively manage the problems in Shan state, the Global New Light of Myanmar reported.


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