13 policemen die in Rakhine rebel attacks

A temporary camp in Ponnagyun township, in northern Rakhine, Myanmar. Rakhine has seen a surge in violence in recent weeks between rebels from the Arakan Army and security forces, displacing thousands. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

YANGON • Buddhist Rakhine insurgents killed 13 policemen and injured nine in attacks on four police posts in Myanmar's Rakhine state yesterday as the country marked Independence Day.

Fighting surged again in the state early last month between government forces and the rebel Arakan Army, which wants more autonomy for the Buddhist ethnic Rakhine minority.

The restive western state is also where a military-led crackdown in 2017 prompted hundreds of thousands of minority Rohingya Muslims to flee to neighbouring Bangladesh.

The separate conflict between the military and Arakan Army rebels forced 2,500 civilians from their homes by the end of last year, according to the United Nations.

The official Myanmar News Agency said four police posts in the Buthidaung area in northern Rakhine came under attack from hundreds of Arakan Army fighters after daybreak yesterday. Thirteen policemen were killed and nine injured as police were forced to abandon two of the posts, it said, adding that the military was now conducting a "clearance" of the area.

Myanmar military spokesman Zaw Min Tun said earlier that the insurgents had hit police outposts in a rugged region near the border with Bangladesh. "These police posts are there to protect the national races in the area so (Arakan Army rebels) shouldn't attack them," he said, referring to mostly Buddhist ethnic groups in the area who are, unlike Rohingya Muslims, considered Myanmar citizens.

Arakan Army spokesman Khine Thu Kha confirmed the assault and said the rebels later retrieved the bodies of seven "enemies". At least 12 members of the security forces detained in the fighting were later freed.

He said the attacks were in response to a military offensive against the Arakan Army in recent weeks that had also targeted civilians. The military last month announced a four-month halt to fighting in the north and north-east to kick-start peace talks with armed groups seeking ethnic autonomy, but that announcement excluded Rakhine state.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 05, 2019, with the headline 13 policemen die in Rakhine rebel attacks. Subscribe