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HomeAsiaArakan Army of Myanmar advancing towards region's capital, reports Radio Free Asia

Arakan Army of Myanmar advancing towards region’s capital, reports Radio Free Asia

Reports from locals in western Myanmar’s Rakhine state indicate that an ethnic rebel army has taken control of a city near the state capital, as confirmed by Radio Free Asia on Thursday.

The Arakan Army has made significant progress in their offensive, with the recent capture of Ponnagyun city, located just 24 kilometers east of the capital city, Sittwe.

Having already seized six townships in Rakhine state and one in neighboring Chin state to the north since breaking a year-long ceasefire in November, the rebel army’s presence continues to grow.

The takeover of Ponnagyun by Arakan Army soldiers occurred on Monday, marking the first city in Sittwe district to fall under their control.

Concerned by the nearby conflict, residents in Sittwe are evacuating in fear of an imminent advance by the rebel forces towards the coastal capital. The situation has already led to power outages in Sittwe and approximately 300 people are fleeing daily, predominantly the elderly and young individuals.

Many of those fleeing are seeking refuge in townships already captured by the Arakan Army, while others are opting to escape by air to Yangon due to travel restrictions imposed by the military junta.

Sittwe airport, Rakhine state on Nov. 20, 2023. (RFA)

The lack of a functional railway in Rakhine state, combined with travel bans imposed by the junta, has further complicated the escape routes for residents, making it challenging to flee by land or sea.

Intensifying Conflict

With nearly half of Sittwe’s 150,000 residents already displaced due to the escalating battles, the situation remains dire for those who cannot afford to leave the city.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reports that the ongoing clashes have resulted in the displacement of approximately 148,500 individuals since the conflict began in November.

In a tragic incident on Feb. 29, junta troops fired a shell into a crowded market in Sittwe, resulting in the deaths of 12 individuals and critical injuries to 18 others.

Residents in other cities within Arakan Army territory are also feeling the impact of the junta’s efforts to exert control, with reports of aerial attacks damaging infrastructure and causing destruction in Minbya township.

An Ann Thar resident recounted the devastation caused by recent bombings, highlighting the destruction of the village’s only school and homes due to military airstrikes.

Despite attempts to reach junta spokesperson Hla Thein for further information on the fighting in Sittwe district and Minbya township, no response was received, underscoring the challenge of obtaining updates amid the escalating conflict.

Translated by RFA Burmese. Edited by Kiana Duncan and Mike Firn.

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