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Al Jazeera
Al Jazeera

Myanmar ethnic alliance fighters attack border outposts as civilians flee

Members of the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army hold the group's flag on a captured army armored vehicle in Myanmar on October 28, 2023 [File: The Kokang online media via AP Photo]

An ethnic armed group has carried out attacks on border guard outposts in Myanmar’s western Rakhine state, and fighting has erupted in neighbouring Chin state, sending thousands of people across the border into India.

Myanmar’s generals are facing their biggest test since seizing power in a 2021 coup after The Three Brotherhood Alliance, an alliance of ethnic minority armed groups, launched a major offensive in late October overrunning more than 80 military outposts and taking large caches of military weapons and ammunition.

One of the allied groups, the Arakan Army, which is fighting for greater autonomy in Rakhine State, seized posts in the Rathedaung and Minbya areas, about 200km (124 miles) apart, AA spokesman Khine Thu Kha said on Monday.

“We have conquered some posts, and fighting is continuing in some other places,” he told local media.

Gunfire broke out before dawn, followed by hours of artillery bombardment, residents said, with the military seen blocking entrances to the area and reinforcing administrative buildings.

Richard Horsey, senior Myanmar adviser for the Crisis Group think tank, said the attacks increased the risk of renewed conflict in the long troubled state, where a brutal military crackdown on the Rohingya in 2017 is now the subject of a genocide case at the International Court of Justice.

“If combat persists, it will open a significant new front for the regime, which is already overstretched,” Horsey said.

“It will be hard for the regime to focus their efforts across all fronts.”

Civilians flee

Renewed fighting also broke out in Chin State, which lies north of Rakhine and borders India, when fighters attacked two military camps, according to an Indian official and two sources with knowledge of the assault.

About 5,000 people from Myanmar crossed into India’s Mizoram state as a result of the fighting, said James Lalrinchhana, the deputy commissioner of a district on the Myanmar border.

There was no immediate comment from Myanmar’s military on the latest fighting.

The Three Brotherhood Alliance, which also includes the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army, is part of a coalition of seven armed ethnic organisations that maintain close ties with China and have bases or territories near the country’s borders.

The success of their offensive has given renewed momentum to the anti-coup movement with fighters elsewhere, including the central state of Sagaing, reporting new advances.

The generals have acknowledged the challenge the offensive poses to the regime.

Myint Swe, the military-appointed president, told a national defence and security council meeting this month, “It is necessary to carefully control this issue.”

Senior General Min Aung Hlaing led a coup on February 1, 2021 to remove the government of elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi. The power grab triggered mass rallies demanding the restoration of civilian rule, but when the military responded with brutal force many protesters took up arms, joining forces with ethnic armed groups on the country’s borders.

The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a Myanmar advocacy group that has been tracking the crisis, says at least 4,182 civilians and pro-democracy activists have been killed by the military in the escalating violence, and nearly 20,000 people have been jailed by the regime.

The United Nations says 1.7 million people have been forced from their homes as a result of the crisis.

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