Arakan Army fighters claim control of key city in northwestern Myanmar

Lying along the Kaladar River in Chin State, Paletwa is a strategically important city on a major trade route.

Tun Myat Naing, commander-in-chief of the Arakan Army (AA), . He is wearing a dark green uniform with a red patch on the shoulder and a green beret with a badge
The AA, led by Tun Myat Naing, has been fighting the military for years [File: Reuters]

The Arakan Army (AA), an armed ethnic group fighting as part of an alliance against the Myanmar military, has claimed control of a key western town near the border with India and Bangladesh.

The AA, which was in an uneasy truce with the military until late October, said it took full control of Paletwa in Chin State on Sunday afternoon, having overrun multiple military outposts.

“There is not a single military council camp left in the entire Palewa area,” it said in a statement on its media page, which was accompanied by photos showing AA soldiers posing with their weapons outside key administrative buildings adorned with the group’s flag as well as weapons, ammunition and military equipment it had seized.

“The entire Palewa region has been successfully controlled by [the] Rakhine Army,” the statement added.

There was no comment from the military on the situation in Paletwa, or any reports in state-run media.

The capture of Paletwa is another setback to the generals who are facing the biggest challenge since they seized power from the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi in a coup in February 2021.

The AA claims to have about 30,000 troops and is part of the so-called Three Brotherhood Alliance with the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) and the Ta’Ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) that launched a major offensive against the military at the end of October.

Known as Operation 1027, the offensive has wrested control of key towns and military outposts near the border with China in the north and given renewed momentum to the anti-coup movement.

Dr Sasa, the minister of international cooperation in the National Unity Government set up by politicians removed in the coup, welcomed the AA capture of Paletwa.

“This is a significant success for the Nationwide Revolution, the Spring Revolution of Myanmar, the fight to free to entire population of Myanmar from the genocidal military dictatorship and to restore Myanmar to the path of an inclusive federal democratic Union for ALL,” he wrote on X.

42nd town to fall

The AA’s advance comes days after China announced it had brokered a ceasefire between the armed groups and the military in northern Shan State. A similar agreement in December quickly collapsed.

The AA has been fighting the military in Rakhine, where a brutal military crackdown on the Rohingya in 2017 is now the subject of a genocide case at the International Court of Justice, in an attempt to secure autonomy for its ethnic population.

Just before Myanmar’s national election in November 2020, the AA agreed to a truce with the military but when the generals seized power the AA’s political wing, the United League of Arakan (ULA), took the opportunity to extend and entrench its power in Rakhine and fighting resumed amid military concern at the AA’s growing power.

Chin State lies north of Rakhine and Paletwa is situated along the Kaladan River about 20km (12 miles) from the border with Bangladesh.

Nathan Ruser, an analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s Cyber, Tech and Security programme, who has been mapping the advance of anti-coup forces, said the town was the 42nd nationwide to be captured from the military with 16 still being contested.

In addition, 25 battalion headquarters have been captured since the offensive started three months ago, “clearly marking the decisive shift towards offensive warfare by the resistance”, Ruser wrote on X.

The military coup triggered mass rallies demanding the restoration of civilian rule but when the military responded with brutal force, many protesters took up arms, joining forces with ethnic armed groups on the country’s borders.

The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a Myanmar advocacy group that has been tracking the crisis, says at least 4,363 civilians and pro-democracy activists have been killed by the military in the escalating violence, and nearly 20,000 people have been jailed by the regime.

Source: Al Jazeera