Three bomb blasts hit capital of Myanmar's Rakhine state

Soldiers and police inspecting one of the bomb explosion sites in Sittwe, capital of Myanmar's Rakhine state, yesterday. Three blasts went off at different locations in Sittwe and three other unexploded bombs were found.
Soldiers and police inspecting one of the bomb explosion sites in Sittwe, capital of Myanmar's Rakhine state, yesterday. Three blasts went off at different locations in Sittwe and three other unexploded bombs were found.

YANGON • Three bombs exploded early yesterday in the capital of Myanmar's Rakhine state, a cauldron of ethnic tensions roiled by insurgencies and a military crackdown on the Muslim Rohingya, officials said.

The three blasts at separate locations around Sittwe included one at the home of a high-ranking official, police told Agence France-Presse. One policeman was injured.

Besides the bloody campaign against the Rohingya, Rakhine has been struggling with a decade-long rebellion fought by ethnic Rakhine Buddhist insurgents, but bombings in the state capital are rare.

"Three bombs exploded and three other unexploded bombs were found. A police officer was injured but not seriously," said a senior officer on the condition of anonymity.

The blasts took place at around 4am local time, the officer said.

One bomb was detonated in the compound of the state government secretary's home, while the other two blew up in front of an office in the city and on a road leading to a beach.

A local official from the state government confirmed the explosions.

Photos of the sites showed shattered windows and scattered debris. "Some streets are being blocked by police already because of the bomb blasts," Sittwe resident Zaw Zaw told AFP by phone.

In recent months, unrest in Rakhine has been concentrated in the state's northern wedge, where a sweeping military crackdown on the Rohingya Muslim community last August led to nearly 700,000 refugees going across the border to Bangladesh.

But the restive state also hosts a simmering insurgency waged by a Rakhine Buddhist rebel group called the Arakan Army, which clashes with Myanmar troops.

Unlike the Rohingya Muslims, the Rakhine are recognised by the government as an ethnic minority but are still marginalised in a country historically dominated by the Bamar (Burmese) majority.

Tensions between the community and the local authorities have escalated since a police crackdown on an ethnic Rakhine mob left seven dead last month.

That violence in Mrauk U township prompted the Arakan Army's political wing to warn of a "serious" retaliation for the deaths of the protesters.

Around two weeks later, the town's administrator was found murdered on the side of the road.

Mr David Mathieson, an independent analyst based in Myanmar, said yesterday's Sittwe blasts were more likely tied to ethnic Rakhine tensions than the Rohingya crisis, whose epicentre is further north.

The Arakan Army is "the only armed group operating in central Rakhine that would have the sophistication to do something like this", he told AFP.

Coordinated strikes in an urban area would however mark a "significant escalation" of that rebellion, which typically sees clashes outside the capital.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 25, 2018, with the headline 'Three bomb blasts hit capital of Myanmar's Rakhine state'. Print Edition | Subscribe