Small blasts hit Rakhine town as Myanmar's Suu Kyi visits

Myanmar's State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi arrives in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, on Dec 14, 2019. PHOTO: AFP

YANGON (AFP) - Three small explosions went off in a southern Rakhine town in Myanmar on Thursday (Dec 19) just before civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi landed there in a rare visit to the conflict-ridden state, a local official said.

The blasts happened in the normally quiet town of Manaung on an island off Myanmar's western coast where Suu Kyi was due to open a solar power plant.

"There were three explosions, but no casualties," Win Myint, spokesman for Rakhine's regional government, told AFP.

He said it happened before Suu Kyi arrived, but since they were on the other side of town, the event went ahead as planned and she had since left safely on a flight to Yangon.

"This has never happened in Manaung before," he added.

No group has yet claimed responsibility for planting the small bombs, which detonated at the side of a road, photos from local media showed.

The area has remained largely unscathed by unrest further north, where Myanmar's military is locked in an increasingly vicious conflict with the Arakan Army (AA).

The rebel group claims to be fighting for more autonomy and rights for the ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and garners sympathy from many local people who have long felt marginalised in the Bamar-majority country.

But tens of thousands have fled their homes over the past year and dozens of civilians have been caught in the crossfire.

There have been allegations of abuse against both sides.

Rights groups say Myanmar's military has abducted civilians and tortured detainees, but the army points to targeted shootings, roadside bombings and kidnappings by insurgents.

One Indian construction worker died while being held hostage and an MP from Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) has now been held for over six weeks.

A number of hostages seized by the rebels in a raid on a ferry packed with scores of police and soldiers were killed in October, with each side blaming the other.

Rakhine state's north was also the epicentre of a bloody military crackdown two years ago that forced some 740,000 Rohingya Muslims to flee over the border into Bangladesh.

Thursday's visit was only the third time Suu Kyi had travelled to Rakhine since the Rohingya crisis erupted in 2017.

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