Blast goes off near ‘Korean port’ in Rakhine State capital 

Military authorities are tightening security and restricting people’s movements as the Arakan Army moves closer to Sittwe, banning travel on rivers and allegedly sabotaging bridges in various parts of the state

Two days after a junta prohibition against boat travel went into effect in and near the Rakhine State capital of Sittwe, an explosion occurred on Sunday near a Korean-backed port in the city, locals said. 

A Sittwe resident said the blast went off near the Korean BXT port, adjacent to the Aye Temple in Mi Zan Ward, at around 10am. No casualties were reported. 

“I didn’t hear any more explosions afterwards. But last night they fired a lot of artillery shells,” he said.

Since the end of 2023, phone and internet communications in Sittwe have been cut off, and there was sparse traffic and few potential witnesses on the streets Sunday morning due in part to a dusk-to-dawn curfew imposed on February 1. Most residents asked about the explosion said they were unaware of it. 

Sittwe locals refer to the BXT port as “the Korean port”, partly to distinguish it from another, nearby deep sea port project backed by Indian investment. 

Construction of the BXT port began as a “new city” development project and joint venture between the Rakhine State government and the Korean firm BXT International Company, Ltd In early 2015. Locals voiced objections at the project’s inception, and the fate of the port project has been uncertain since 2017. 

A previous explosion occurred near the Korean port in July 2021, five months after the military seized power in Myanmar, and an unexploded bomb was found close to the port in January 2023. 

The most recent explosion occurred following months of open hostilities in Rakhine State between regime forces and the Arakan Army (AA)—an ethnic armed organisation and member of the anti-junta Brotherhood Alliance. 

Having taken control of six towns in Rakhine State, the AA is now threatening Sittwe and the junta’s state-level administrative apparatus, which is based there. 

On December 12 of last year, against a backdrop of increasingly frequent and intense battles, military authorities and police arrested 53 local vendors and residents, detaining them at the Sittwe Police Station. They released four people, including two children, the following day but the fate of the remaining detainees is still unknown. 

An explosion occurred at Sittwe Airport at around 8pm on January 15. Casualty figures and details about the motive and aftermath of the incident remain unconfirmed. 

The AA recaptured the town of Pauktaw—located just one hour east of Sittwe via water routes—from junta forces just two days later. 

Amid further clashes with the AA in Ponnagyun Township just northeast of Sittwe, where junta raids have been forcing civilians from their homes since mid-January, junta authorities tightened security in and near the state capital. 

Boat travel bans

The General Administration Department—part of the military-controlled ministry of home affairs—issued an order last Friday banning boat travel on the Krwee Te River, a branch of the Mayu River, between Sittwe and Rathedaung townships for the next two months. The water travel ban was announced two days before the explosion at the Korean port.

Sittwe Township administrator Kyaw Lwin also released a letter that day saying terrorist activities on the state’s waterways—including the Krwee Te River—had prompted the prohibition on boat travel anywhere between the riverbank villages of Ohn Yae Hpaw and Ah Myint Kyun, Sittwe Township.

Locals and sources in the AA said that the military has been deliberately wrecking the Min Chaung bridge, near Ah Myint Kyun village, on the Sittwe-Yangon highway to further restrict people’s movements and the transport of goods. 

The junta has also imposed travel prohibitions and blocked entry to beaches outside of Sittwe Township, including a blanket, 24-hour ban on fishing or boating and that has been in force since November 13 and in Kyaukphyu Township, the site of a number of development projects mostly backed by Chinese investors. 

While enforcing the prohibition, junta authorities have detained vegetable sellers and shot at motorboats entering Kyaukphyu Township via rivers and creeks. 

Sabotaging bridges, further clashes

Outside of Sittwe, junta and AA forces continue to fight fiercely. Battles have raged in Toungup, Kyaukphyu, and Ramree townships for the past four days. 

Junta forces destroyed the Ma-Ei bridge in Toungup Township’s town of Ma-Ei at around 9 pm on Friday, according to a statement released by the AA on Sunday night.  At 3am on Saturday, army troops also blew up the Kyauk Gyi Pauk bridge on the Ma-Ei-Kyaukphyu road. 

Several houses as well as the Ma-Ei high school sustained damage from the explosion at Ma-Ei bridge, the AA’s statement said.

Ma-Ei bridge in Toungup Township, seen the day after junta forces destroyed it with explosives (Photo: Supplied)

Ba Shein, a member of the Arakan National Party and former member of parliament representing a Kyaukphyu Township constituency, confirmed on Monday that the bridges had been destroyed. 

“It is true that Ma-Ei bridge and Kyauk Gyi Pauk bridge were destroyed,” he said. “I don’t know which side destroyed them, but the bridges were destroyed, of course.” 

He acknowledged that the destruction of the bridges had cut off the only route between Kyaukphyu and Yangon. 

“I don’t understand why they destroyed the bridges because I’m not fully informed on military affairs and tactics,” he added. “But it’s true that such damage makes it difficult for local people to travel.”

According to the local media outlet Arakan Princess, around 80 junta soldiers and police moved west from a hill base and police station in Ma-Ei on Friday at around 9:30pm. Entering Kin Chay village, around a mile northwest of Ma-Ei, the group took three civilian villagers captive around midnight, identified as Maung Than, Nyi Nyi, and Naing Lin Aung.

The junta also launched air and sea attacks on Ramree, according to the AA and the Brotherhood Alliance.

In the town of Ramree, junta airstrikes and shelling from warships caused fires that gutted over 150 houses in Ward 4 and Kin Tae Ward on Saturday, according to a statement released by the Brotherhood Alliance the following night. 

From midday to early evening on Sunday, jet fighters and at least one Mi-35 helicopter  continued to carry out airstrikes on Ramree, while a junta warship fired on the town using heavy artillery nine times. 

Initially, in coordination with the Brotherhood Alliance’s Operation 1027 offensive in northern Shan State—which launched in late October and continued until the alliance agreed to a temporary ceasefire in January—the AA has been attacking the Myanmar Army since November 13, 2023.

Since then, the AA has released a series of public statements reporting its battles with regime forces in Chin State’s Paletwa Township and Rakhine State’s Kyauktaw, Mrauk-U, Pauktaw, Myebon, Kyaukphyu, Ramree, Maungdaw, Ponnagyun, and Rathedaung townships. At this time, only three of Rakhine State’s 17 townships remain fully under the junta’s control.

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