Arakan Army tells residents to evacuate ahead of western Myanmar city battle

A battle for the administrative center of Maungdaw township follows the recent seizure of nearby junta camps.
RFA Burmese
Arakan Army tells residents to evacuate ahead of western Myanmar city battle People flee from a village after renewed fighting between Myanmar’s military and the Arakan Army, an ethnic minority armed group, in Pauktaw township in western Rakhine state, Nov. 19, 2023.

All roads have been blocked out of the key city of Maungdaw in western Myanmar, where the ethnic insurgent Arakan Army has warned the remaining 20,000 civilians of an imminent battle with military junta troops, residents told Radio Free Asia. 

The Arakan Army (AA) told residents on Sunday that they should evacuate their homes by 9 p.m. 

But many residents were unable to leave the city near the Bangladesh border because junta troops had already set up barricades, a Rohingya man who wished to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals told RFA, a news service affiliated with BenarNews.

“The junta has taken its positions near and inside the city. People have no way out,” he said. “The death toll may increase due to the battle.”

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People stand near a destroyed building following fighting in Rakhine state between Myanmar’s military and the Arakan Army ethnic minority armed group, May 21, 2024. [AFP]

The Arakan Army has recently seized control of all junta camps in surrounding Maungdaw township, including several key border posts

Attacking the city of Maungdaw – the township’s administrative center and an important base for junta forces in Rakhine state – is the next target, the AA said in a statement

Junta troops have “prepared extensively for urban warfare” and residents “are urged to avoid staying in areas such as roads and houses from which the SAC forces have fortified positions,” the AA said, using the initials for the State Administrative Council, the formal name for the military junta.

Maungdaw is a key trade hub for goods flowing in and out of Myanmar through Bangladesh.

Rohingya in military uniforms

The junta has been training Rohingya men in recent months, and some of those new recruits may be used in the upcoming battle. Residents told RFA that Rohingya in junta uniforms and weapons have been seen at military camps inside the city. 

The junta has been desperate to recruit new soldiers as its ranks are depleted by battlefield losses and mass surrenders to rebel forces.

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Arakan Army soldiers pose for a photo in Myanmar, June 2024. [AA Info Desk via Telegram]

Rohingya have been persecuted for decades in Buddhist-majority Myanmar.

Both sides have pressed Rohingya into their ranks and at the same time have accused the refugees of helping their rivals. Reports suggest that both the AA and junta forces have subjected members of the Muslim minority to violence.

Ethnic group trapped

Also trapped are about 600 Mro ethnic people who have been taking shelter at a Buddhist monastery after fleeing from two nearby villages, residents said.

They’re facing shortages of food and medical supplies, an aid worker told RFA on condition of anonymity because of security concerns.

“We need to ask permission to rescue them,” the aid worker said. “Both the AA and the junta are there and we don’t know who will be responsible for the permission.”

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Another group of Arakan Army soldiers pose in Myanmar, June 2024. [AA Info Desk via Telegram]

The AA, which in November ended a ceasefire that had been in place since the military’s February 2021 coup d’etat, announced on May 18 that it had captured all military camps in Buthidaung township, which borders Maungdaw township. 

It now occupies nine townships in Rakhine state, as well as Paletwa township in neighboring Chin state.

Hla Thein, the junta’s spokesman and attorney general for Rakhine state, did not immediately respond to RFA requests for comment.


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