Myanmar’s military junta says it has regained control over a town near the Rakhine State capital Sittwe nearly two days after it was captured by the Arakan Army (AA).
Pauktaw, a coastal town located some 30km east of Sittwe, fell to the AA after the group overran its police station at around 10pm Wednesday, forcing some 70 junta personnel to surrender.
Early the next day, the regime deployed naval vessels and attack helicopters to bombard the town, finally retaking it at around 3pm on Friday.
Junta forces have now taken up position in the police station and on a nearby hilltop, sources told Myanmar Now.
Thousands of people who were trapped by the military’s overwhelming show of force remain stranded there, with many using social media to plead for help getting out.
“We’re trapped and don’t know what’s happening out there. We don’t dare leave the house. Our household has a child, three older people, and five others. At night, we can hear sounds of weapons firing. We didn’t sleep at all last night,” said one woman.
While most fled the town of roughly 20,000 inhabitants, fearing the junta’s reprisals after the AA raised its flag over the police station, many stayed behind to protect their property.
“There are a lot of people trapped in the town. Give them an hour or two to leave,” said a local relief worker, who suggested that the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) could coordinate the evacuation effort.
“We can’t do it, but the ICRC can,” said the aid worker.
Meanwhile, there were reports of soldiers on patrol arresting people who had left their homes.
Junta spokesperson Zaw Min Tun, who confirmed on Friday that the military had retaken control of Pauktaw, accused the AA the day before of “destroying” Rakhine State by breaking a ceasefire earlier this week.
On Monday, the group carried out multiple attacks on junta targets in the state’s Rathedaung and Minbya townships as part of a wider offensive dubbed Operation 1027, which it launched with its allies in northern Shan State late last month.
The following day, four residents of the Rohingya village of Sin Gyi Pyin in Minbya Township were killed when junta troops stationed nearby opened fire with heavy artillery. At least 13 others were injured, including a one-year-old child.
According to one Sin Gyi Pyin villager, the military later ordered everyone living there to leave.
“The military called the village administrator and said that not one person could stay. They said they intended to shoot towards the village, and if we stayed, we would get hurt,” the villager said.
Later the same day, a woman named Myint Myint Soe Thu was also killed in the town of Minbya after junta troops stationed in a different ward opened fire on her residential neighbourhood.
On Wednesday, the AA also said that it had attacked two tactical bases in Chin State’s Paletwa Township.
In a statement, the group claimed that it had forced junta troops and other regime personnel, including police and members of military-controlled Border Guard Forces, to abandon nearly 40 outposts and other positions since Monday.
Most “went to stay together at nearby junta bases and police stations,” the statement said.
“We are trying to combine some of the small bases together to reinforce strength strategically,” junta spokesperson Zaw Min Tun later said in a statement released by the regime.