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Fresh clashes broke out last week between government troops and the Arakan Army, claiming at least 20 lives and shattering weeks of relative calm in Burma’s westernmost state.
The fighting, which coincided with the end of Burma’s Thingyan holidays, began on 16 April with an attack on an Arakan Army base near Lawmara Hill in Rathedaung Township, according to Khaing Thukha, a spokesperson for the ethnic armed group.
“That was in the morning. In the evening, fighting broke out at Natthaye, a village between Ponnakyung and Kyauktaw townships. In this battle, about 20 Burmese soldiers, including column commander Col. Myo Min Tun and other officers, were killed,” he told DVB.
“[The Burmese army] sent reinforcements and launched an offensive again in the evening. They fired on us with 120-mm heavy artillery until the afternoon of 17 April,” he added.
Military-run Myawaddy TV later confirmed the casualties, reporting that a battalion commander and several other officers had been killed in an ambush while clearing an area where the rebel army was known to be active.
The announcement was a rare admission of losses by Burma’s armed forces, which normally maintains a strict silence on casualty figures.
More government troops have since arrived in Ponnakyun and Kyauktaw, signaling that the Burmese army offensive was set to continue, according to Khaing Thukha.
“There may be more fighting to come,” he said.
The Arakan Army has clashed with the Burmese military repeatedly since the end of last year, displacing thousands of civilians.
The group is a member of the United Nationalities Federal Council, but was one of several armed groups excluded from national ceasefire talks last year.
Despite the ongoing fighting, the Arakan Army said it would be willing to have a dialogue with the newly formed National League for Democracy government.