Arakan Army resistance forces say they have taken control of a strategic township in western Myanmar


BANGKOK (AP) — A powerful ethnic armed group fighting Myanmar’s military, based in the country’s western state of Rakhine, has captured a township along the border with India and Bangladesh, the group announced Monday. Confirmed accounts from local residents and media.

Paletwa is the first township reported to have come under the control of the Arakan Army, which in mid-November launched surprise attacks on military targets in Paletwa, which is in Chin state, and townships in Rakhine. Paletwa is just north of Rakhine and is bordered by both Bangladesh and India.

Arakan army spokesman Khaing Thukha told The Associated Press on Monday that the entire Paletwa area has become a “military council-free zone,” referring to the ruling military government.

“The grip of the administrative machinery and the military council has ended. Administration, security and rule of law for the Paletwa area will be implemented as required,” Khaing Thukha said in the text message.

The military government did not immediately comment.

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The Arakan Army is a member of a coalition of armed ethnic groups that has recently gained strategic territory in the north-east of the country. Working together with the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army and the Tang National Liberation Army – under the name Three Brotherhood Alliance – it launched a coordinated offensive into northern Shan State on the border with China on 27 October.

The offensive has posed the biggest battlefield challenge to Myanmar’s military rulers since the military seized power from the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi in February 2021. The coalition says it has captured more than 250 military posts, five official border crossings and a major city. With several important cities, near the Chinese border.

The Arakan Army is the well-trained and well-armed military wing of the Rakhine ethnic minority movement, which seeks autonomy from Myanmar’s central government. Rakhine is where about 740,000 members of the Muslim Rohingya minority community were forced to seek safety across the border into Bangladesh in 2017 as part of a brutal anti-terrorism campaign by the military. Rakhine is also known by its old name Arakan.

The Arakan Army said for the first time late Sunday that it had regained full control of Paletwa township. The group also released photos of their guerrillas taking photographs in front of the township general administration office, police chief’s office, fire office and municipal office.

Myanmar’s independent national and Rakhine media outlets on Monday reported the capture of Paletwa, citing the Arakan Army.

The Arakan Army had taken control of Paletwa town after intense fighting between the group and the army last week, a resident said in a telephone conversation. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they feared being arrested by either side in the conflict.

He said he and most of the town’s residents fled Paletwa earlier this month to seek shelter in nearby villages, and only a few people remained behind. He said access to internet and cellphone services in the area has been almost completely cut off as fighting escalated.

Another resident, who had earlier left the town, said he has not been able to reach his family members by cellphone since early January, who are believed to still be in Paletwa.

Paletwa, whose location on the border gives it strategic importance, is where the Arakan Army first gained a foothold in 2015 to fight against the army. However, most of Paletwa’s residents are from the Chin ethnic minority, and there have been tensions over the group’s operations there.

However, the Chin have been a major force in the resistance against the military since the military seized power in 2021, so they now share a common enemy with the Arakan Army.

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