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Myanmar Rebels Claim Town, Reject Rohingya Targeting Accusations

Myanmar

A major armed ethnic group in Myanmar declared on Sunday that it had taken control of a town in the western state of Rakhine, following weeks of fighting. Claims that the group had targeted the minority group of Rohingya Muslims during the offensive were denied by the group.
Spokesman Khine Thu Kha announced that the Arakan Army (AA) had captured Buthidaung, which is near Myanmar’s border with Bangladesh. This represents yet another blow to the ruling junta’s multipronged campaign of intimidation against opposition parties.

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Khine Thu Kha told Reuters over the phone, “We have taken over the town yesterday, and we have conquered all the bases in Buthidaung.”

Some Rohingya activists accuse the AA of targeting the community during the assault on Buthidaung and surrounding areas, forcing many of them to flee for safety.

“AA troops came into downtown, forced the people to leave their homes and started torching houses,” Nay San Lwin, co-founder of the Free Rohingya Coalition advocacy group told Reuters, based on what he said were eyewitness accounts.

“While the town was burning, I spoke with several people I have known and trusted for years. They all testified that the arson attack was done by the AA.”

Reuters could not independently verify the conflicting accounts. A junta spokesman did not respond to a call seeking comment.

Rohingya have faced persecution in Buddhist-majority Myanmar for decades. After escaping a military-led crackdown in 2017, nearly a million of them live crammed into refugee camps in Bangladesh’s border district of Cox’s Bazar.

Junta’s Biggest Challenge

Following a military coup in 2021, which resulted in the emergence of resistance forces fighting alongside long-standing ethnic minority rebel groups, Myanmar has been in unrest.

Since October, when a coalition of ethnic armies, including the AA, began a significant offensive close to the Chinese border, the conflict has intensified, wresting large areas of territory from the better-armed junta and posing its largest threat since assuming power.

One estimate puts the junta’s military positions—including outposts, bases, and headquarters—at about half of what they once controlled.

The AA’s Khine Thu Kha said junta aircraft and Muslim insurgent groups aligned with the military had set fire to parts of Buthidaung, which had a population of around 55,000 people, according to the most recent government census available, from 2014.

“The burning of Buthidaung is due to the air strikes from the junta’s jet fighter before our troops entered the town,” he said.

Aung Kyaw Moe, a deputy minister in Myanmar’s shadow National Unity Government and activist for Rohingya civil society, claimed that when the AA asked the Rohingya residents of Buthidaung to leave, they replied that they had nowhere to go, trapping them when the offensive started.

“Since about 10 p.m. last night up to this early morning, Buthidaung town had been burning and now only ashes remain,” he told Reuters.

Rohingya residents fled to the field and there may casualties, he said.

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