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Myanmar junta under attack on new front as opposition intensifies

Ethnic minority insurgents launched attacks on security posts in northwest Myanmar on Monday, residents and the rebels said, as fighting erupted on a new front against a military government facing its biggest test since a 2021 coup.

The Arakan Army (AA), a group formed to fight for greater autonomy in Rakhine State, seized posts in the Rathedaung and Minbya areas, about 200 km (124 miles) apart and fighting was raging elsewhere in the state, AA spokesman Khine Thu Kha said.

“We have conquered some posts and fighting is continuing in some other places. We also arrested some officers,” he said.

A resident of Rathedaung said gunfire was heard before dawn on Monday followed by hours of artillery bombardment, with the military seen blocking entrances to the area and reinforcing administrative buildings.

A spokesperson for the junta did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment.

The new combat will be another blow for a junta that is increasingly stretched as armed opposition to its rule grows in scale and strength, fuelled by anger over the coup and ensuing crackdown that ended a decade of tentative democratic reforms.

The military-installed president last week said Myanmar, a country the size of France, was at risk of breaking apart because of ineffective responses to the rebellion. The generals say they are fighting “terrorists”.

The AA is one of several ethnic minority armies that have joined forces in an anti-junta offensive launched on Oct 27 in Shan State in the northeast, that has seen multiple towns and more than 100 military posts seized near the border with China.

Assaults on urban centres have also taken place in the Sagaing region in central Myanmar, to the west of Shan State, while conflict in neighbouring Kayah State to the south led to the crash on Saturday of a fighter jet. The rebels said they shot it down while the military said it had a technical fault.

Richard Horsey, senior Myanmar Adviser for the Crisis Group think tank, said the military had experience fighting in Rakhine State but could struggle as enemy forces probe for weaknesses in multiple areas.

“If combat persists, it will open a significant new front for the regime, which is already overstretched,” he said.

“It will be hard for the regime to focus their efforts across all fronts.”

(Published 13 November 2023, 10:30 IST)

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