Myanmar ethnic minority fighters claim control of port town in Rakhine state

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Fighters from a Myanmar ethnic minority armed group have seized control of a port town after more than two months of intense clashes with junta troops, they said.

The Arakan Army (AA) said late Wednesday it “completely controlled” Pauktaw, a town of 20,000 people close to a crucial deep-water port in the capital of western Rakhine state.

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AA fighters briefly seized Pauktaw in November, shattering a frag-ile ceasefire that had largely held since the military’s coup in 2021.

The junta has used artillery and naval ships to bombard the town almost daily since, and strafed it with gunfire from helicopters, res-idents have told AFP.

New Google Earth images of Pauktaw showed a block of the downtown area reduced almost entirely to rubble and damage to several buildings near its harbor.

Several buildings in the police station compound were destroyed too.

AFP was unable to confirm the AA claim, and communications with Pauktaw remained patchy.

A source close to the AA told AFP earlier this week that its fighters were conducting “clearance operations” in the town.

On Tuesday the AA said “intense” clashes were ongoing in the town.

The junta has not commented on recent clashes in Pauktaw.

Around 18,000 people had been displaced from the area due to fighting, the United Nations said in November.

Pauktaw is 25 kilometers (16 miles) east of the state capital Sittwe, home to a deepwater port partly financed by India as it seeks to deepen economic linkages with Myanmar.

Earlier this week Myanmar’s chambers of commerce hosted talks with an Indian business delegation on “upgrading” operations at Sittwe port, junta-backed media reported on Thursday.

Travel between Sittwe and Pauktaw was severely restricted by new military gates and checkpoints, a Pauktaw resident currently in Sittwe told AFP on Thursday, requesting anonymity for security reasons.

In its Wednesday statement the AA said “intense” clashes were ongoing in Mrauk-U, Minbya, Kyauktaw, and Rathedaung townships in Rakhine, without giving details.

The AA has fought an on-off war for years seeking more autonomy for the state’s ethnic Rakhine population.

It is one of dozens of ethnic minority armed groups that have battled Myanmar’s military since independence from Britain in 1948.

Some groups want greater autonomy, while others simply want the right to run the lucrative trade in jade, drugs, and timber in their territory.

The clashes in Rakhine come as the military and ethnic minority armed groups in northern Shan state accuse each other of breaching a China-brokered ceasefire.

Fighting had raged along the border with China since late October, with the military losing control of several towns and vital trade crossings to its northern neighbor.

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