The Arakan Army attacked a paramilitary border guard outpost in western Myanmar's war-ravaged Rakhine state on Friday, capturing six policemen and three of their family members, and killing several others, the Myanmar military and local residents said.
The ethnic armed force raided the Thazin Myaing police outpost in rural Rathedaung township from the northwest, according to a statement on the website of the Office of the Commander-in-Chief of Defense Services.
"Around 100 AA terrorist insurgents attacked in droves using heavy and light artillery and guns at about 2:10 a.m. today on the main station of Thazin Myaing police outpost which has been undertaking law enforcement in the region," the statement said.
The ambush resulted in four deaths and the abduction of nine others, including some of officers' relatives, it said.
"The attacks killed four policemen, while six more policemen and three family members, including a child, are missing," the statement said.
Similar AA raids on police outposts in late 2018 and in early 2019 triggered the conflict pitting the ethnic Rakhine rebel group against the Myanmar military that has engulfed much of northern Rakhine state - a region already devastated by the national army's campaign to expel 740,000 Rohingya Muslims in 2017.
Some residents from a nearby village estimated that at least 30 security forces were deployed at the outpost and that as many as 10 of them may have died during the armed assault.
"There were heavy losses of servicemen from the government side during the battle last night in the village, [and] the AA abducted some policemen," said a resident of Thazin Myaing village who requested anonymity for security reasons.
AA soldiers took away nine police officers, the resident said, adding that the exact number of deaths is unclear.
"Another 10 policemen who left the outpost are staying on the mountain, and they haven't come down," he said. "They asked us for help with food supplies. We promised to help them."
The remaining 10 or so are assumed to have been killed during the assault, the villager said.
Myanmar military spokesman Brigadier Gen Zaw Min Tun told RFA that only a handful of policemen were assigned to the outpost and that authorities were still trying to determine the number killed and abducted.
Myanmar security forces are now following AA soldiers and conducting clearance operations to eliminate them from the area, he said.
Another local villager who also requested anonymity for the same reason said AA troops also torched two police outpost buildings following the cessation of artillery fire at about 3 a.m.
"They burned down two buildings," the villager said. "One is on the hill, and the other one for support staff is at the foot [of the hill]."
Almost all the residents of Thazin Myaing, except for the elderly, have now fled the community - a purpose-built village with about 40 houses that was set up as an outpost to protect the area against attacks by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), a Muslim militant group active in the region.
Military 'support station'
The Myanmar military said the AA's strategy of targeting border guard outposts and police stations as well as civilians related to officers stationed at these places are war crimes.
"The AA terrorist insurgent group committing such consistent attacks targeting police outposts and policemen is [tantamount to] committing war crimes," the military's statement said.
AA spokesman Khine Thukha confirmed the attack on outpost saying that "the facility nominally called a police outpost is actually a support station for the military's operations."
He said that security forces at the outpost cannot be classified as civilian forces because they are under the command of the military, and that AA troops had seized a rocket launcher and 14 other weapons there.
Khine Thukha said that the AA is assessing the policemen it detained at the scene and would soon release all nonmilitary personnel and well as information about the number of deaths and injuries that occurred during the attack.
A violent AA ambush on four border outposts in neighboring Buthidaung township on Jan. 4, 2019, killed 13 policemen and injured nine others, amid an escalation of hostilities with Myanmar forces that began in late 2018 and has now raged for nearly 17 months.
The AA conducted additional deadly attacks on other police outposts and barracks in Rakhine's Ponnagyun, Mrauk-U, and Buthidaung townships in 2019.
The Myanmar government in March declared the AA an illegal association and a terrorist group.
Reported by RFA's Myanmar Service. Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.
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