Arakan Army recruits scale the climbing ropes at the Laiza, Kachin State base camp.
FILE - Arakan Army recruits scale the climbing ropes at the Laiza, Kachin state base camp.

SANGKHLABURI, THAILAND / WASHINGTON - Ten police officers and three civilians are missing following an attack by the outlawed Arakan Army (AA) against a Burmese border patrol station in Rakhine state, Myanmar’s military confirmed to VOA.

Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun, spokesperson for the Myanmar military, told VOA that the three civilians were members of one family and included one child. He said the outpost, located on the Mayu River’s bank in Rathaetaung Township of Northern Rakhine state, was hosting “very few” security personnel during Friday's AA assault.

“Some 100 AA terrorist insurgents attacked a border guard outpost at 2 a.m. this morning in Thazin Myaing village of Rathaetaung Township,” said Zaw Min Tun.

“AA attacks soft targets like this small-sized outpost which protects ethnic villages in the area,” he added.

Burma map, state of Rakhine

Thazin Myaing village is home to Rakhine ethnic natives, also referred to as the Arakan people. The village’s police station was reportedly set ablaze along with nearby villages during the 2015-17 communal violence in the region.

The outpost attacked Friday was built “at villagers’ request to protect their safety,” said the military spokesman. He added that the AA attack constituted a “war crime.”

Founded in 2009 by Rakhine Buddhists who seek self-governance, the AA has been fighting government forces in sporadic skirmishes that began escalating in late 2018.

The Myanmar government in late March designated the group and its political arm, the United League of Arakan (ULA), as terrorist organizations.

President Win Myint in the designation order said AA posed "a danger to law and order, peace and stability of the country and public peace."

However, the group says it aims to protect “our Arakan people" against crackdowns by the central government in Naypyidaw, the capital of Myanmar. It has claimed in the past to have recruited about 7,000 native ethnic people into its ranks and formed alliances with other anti-government forces in the region.

Retaliation

The AA spokesman, Khine Thukha, told VOA that the Friday assault on the Thazin Myaing outpost was in retaliation for a military attack on Sunday against an AA medical camp near Paletwa, Chin state, which, according to him, had left patients dead and injured.

Khine Thukha claimed that the outpost was assisting Myanmar’s military operations against the AA. He told VOA there were casualties among the military, with the AA fighters seizing 14 small armaments, including one rocket-propelled grenade, from that post.

“After thorough investigation of the detainees, civilians will be released immediately,” he added.

Meanwhile, hours after the Thazin Myaing post attack Friday, an AA ally, the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), said it had intercepted a military convoy. The attack near Nan-kut village of Kutkai Township in Northern Shan state reportedly closed the Union Highway, a trade highway on Myanmar’s border with China.

Confirming the attack, military spokesman Zaw Min Tun said clashes between the military and the TNLA broke out after a roadside bomb hit the security convoy on the highway. He said the military had no casualties, but its vehicle was damaged “slightly.”

TNLA spokesperson Major Ta Eike Kyaw told VOA that clashes started at 10 a.m. local time and lasted for an hour. He said there were no casualties among the TNLA.

A Kutkai resident who did not want his identity disclosed told VOA that highway toll gates remained closed hours after the attack.

“We are frustrated with COVID-19 restrictions and now another terrible situation has turned up,” the resident said.

Ethnic, religious strife

Myanmar has faced a series of ethnic and religious issues since its independence from the British rule in 1948. The central government and militias of various ethnic groups in 2015 signed the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement in an effort to end decades of ethnic conflict in the Burmese-majority country through dialogue. However, these attempts have largely failed to end militant insurgency, with some areas, such as Rakhine state, sliding further into violent conflict.

Rakhine state drew international attention in August 2017 when the Myanmar army started a deadly campaign against Rohingya Muslims that prompted nearly 1 million people to flee to neighboring Bangladesh. The army campaign has been described by the U.N. as a "textbook example of ethnic cleansing."

VOA Burmese's Moe Zaw contributed to this report from Yangon, Myanmar.