Tensions between the Burma Army and the Arakan Army (AA) rose to ominous new levels after the AA arrested a Burma Army captain in the state capital of Sittwe on the afternoon of June 23, according to residents of the port town.
“He was arrested near Mingan, so the military blocked traffic near the entrances of the ward to conduct inspections of passersby,” a Sittwe native said.
A huge increase in military personnel has meant that the majority of Sittwe’s residents are staying indoors — troop build ups in Kyauktaw and Mrauk-U have resulted in similar situations.
Hundreds of vehicles are said to have become caught in a tailback caused by intensive Burma Army inspections of vehicles. Rakhine-based Western News reported that a number of the coastal town’s waterways and maritime services had also been suspended while troops interrogate those travelling in the region.
Tit-for-tat arrests continue in other parts of Rakhine, with the Burma Army detaining nearly 30 civilians, including three students, in Mrauk-U over the past few days. The mass arrests came shortly after the AA captured three Burma Army personnel near the historic town on June 21. Troops are said to have carried out strict inspections across the town while making the arrests.
Residents said that some of Mrauk-U’s schools and markets have closed, and that the military has heightened its presence since the arrests of its personnel.
“Arrests are taking place in many parts of the town. Both men and women were arrested and their whereabouts are unknown,” a local told DVB.
Tensions between the Burmese military and AA have risen exponentially over the past month, after the AA said it would crack down on the military’s “bullying” of Rakhine’s citizens. Both armies have also increased their rhetoric against the militant islamic Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, raising genuine fears that a multi-fronted, multi-ethnic war could again erupt in the state which has nominally been at peace since late 2020.
On June 20, the AA detained three policemen from Kyauktaw Township Police Station, with dozens of residents arrested by the Burma Army shortly after. Preceding the incident, around ten other civilians were arrested by the military in Ponnagyun following the AA’s detention of a soldier in the town.
The AA has detained up to 10 army personnel in Rakhine State in June alone, with the military arresting nearly 80 Rakhine natives in response — of which, only a handful have so far been released.
AA spokesperson Khine Thu Kha said at a press conference on June 14 that arrests had been made in response to Burma Army raids on the homes of ULA members.