A rebel group from Myanmar claims control of the Indian border town

  • By Jonathan Head, Southeast Asia correspondent in Bangkok and Oliver Slow in London
  • BBC News

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Arakan Army chief Twan Mrat Naing called on Myanmar soldiers to surrender

Ethnic insurgents in western Myanmar say they have captured a key town on a main route to India from military forces.

The Arakan Army (AA) – one of three armed groups that launched a new major offensive against the military in October – says it has seized control of Paletwa in Chin state.

“There is no longer a single military council camp in the entire Paletwa region,” the group said on its Telegram channel.

Myanmar's military has not commented.

Developments in Paletwa – which lies near Myanmar's borders with India and Bangladesh – are being closely monitored by Delhi. The town is part of an ongoing Indian-backed, multi-million dollar development project aimed at improving connectivity in the remote region.

The AA is one of the newest but best-equipped of Myanmar's many ethnic armed groups and has been fighting the military for several years – and gaining ground – in Rakhine State and parts of neighboring Chin State. Even before the military took power in February 2021, anti-aircraft fighters had achieved significant success in Rakhine. Two years ago it claimed to control 60% of the state.

But at the time of the coup in 2021, a ceasefire was in place and the army avoided confrontations with it so it could focus its efforts on crushing resistance to the coup.

But last October, the AA announced it would join the broader fight against military rule as part of the Brotherhood Alliance, launching a series of attacks against a military severely overwhelmed by opposition to its coup across much of the country was.

And over the past 11 weeks, the alliance has inflicted a series of humiliating defeats on the military along the Chinese border.

Then last Saturday – on the other side of the country – the AA took control of the last military post in Paletwa township, the hilltop base in Meewa that it failed to capture in 2020 after 42 days of fighting.

With the port of Paletwa on the Kaladan River under its control, the AA now controls road and water transport to the Indian border and has a logistics base from which it can plan further attacks in Rakhine State.

The loss of one of the capitals in Rakhine to the insurgents would be a devastating blow to the military's authority. It is reported to be using airstrikes and helicopter gunships to prevent the AA from advancing into the town of Kyauktaw, which lies on the main road linking the Rakhine capital Sittwe to the rest of Myanmar.

It is not yet clear what the AA will do next. It may want to consolidate the gains it has made and minimize further losses within its ranks. Their stated goal is some form of independence or autonomy within a federal state, and their leadership now appears to have decided that this can best be achieved under a new, elected government rather than military rule.

The bigger question now after the fall of Paletwa is whether the junta can restore morale within its own ranks and persuade its soldiers to keep fighting against the resistance that is now coming from so many quarters.