Myanmar Military, Insurgents Battle Over Port Town

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(Reuters) – Myanmar’s military has launched attacks from the air and the sea to recapture a port town on the Bay of Bengal, an opposition alliance said on Friday, as junta forces face the fiercest offensive from their enemies in years.

The military, which seized power from an elected government in a 2021 coup, is battling a coordinated offensive launched last month by an alliance of three ethnic minority insurgent groups, as well as allied pro-democracy fighters who have taken up arms since the coup.

“The military attacked Pauktaw town with helicopters and artillery fire from a navy ship after we conquered the police station of the town in the morning,” the Three Brotherhood Alliance said on its Telegram channel, referring to the fighting in western Myanmar’s Rakhine State on Thursday.

“In the evening, junta troops came into the town and shot and killed civilians,” the alliance said.

Reuters could not independently verify the report and a junta spokesperson did not respond to request for comment.

Pauktaw is about 500 km (310 miles ) northwest of Myanmar’s main city of Yangon.

The offensive, which the insurgent alliance calls “Operation 1027” after the date it was launched, is the biggest the junta has faced in years.

Three rebel groups, aligned with pro-democracy fighters and a parallel, pro-democracy civilian government, have captured several towns and military posts across the country.

The Irrawaddy news portal, citing a resident of Pauktaw, said members of the Arakan Army (AA) guerrilla group had earlier taken control of the town.

“All the residents are running away. There is no one in the city, all the shops are closed,” the resident said.

Fighting has also broken out in Shan State on the border with China where the insurgents have pledged to wrest control of the area from the junta and eradicate online scam centres run illegally there.

In the weeks before the clashes, Chinese officials called on the junta to take stronger action against the scam centres where Chinese and other foreign nationals have been known to be trapped as victims of human trafficking.

Hundreds of thousands of people have been trafficked to work in scam centres across Southeast Asia in recent years, including at least 120,000 in Myanmar, robbing strangers of their savings online in a fast-growing new kind of crime, the United Nations says.

Junta spokesperson Zaw Min Tun accused the rebel alliance of trying to get China’s support for their cause.

“China is really keen to eliminate online scam activities, and (the alliance) is using that situation with a strategy to gain benefits for their organisation,” he said in a statement on Thursday.

Junta state media said on Friday it had handed three Chinese nationals accused of running scams over to China, while a fourth suspect shot himself after being captured.

The Chinese government could not immediately be reached for comment.

Dozens of junta troops have surrendered in the fighting, according to rebel forces and a video verified by Reuters, and more have fled into neighbouring India.

The junta says it is battling terrorists and has ordered all government staff and those with military experience to prepare to serve in case of emergency.

(Reporting by Reuters staff; writing by Kanupriya Kapoor; editing by Robert Birsel)

Copyright 2023 Thomson Reuters.

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