Buddhist Rakhine fighters killed seven Myanmar security forces in attacks on four police posts in Myanmar’s troubled Rakhine state on Friday as the country marked Independence Day, spokesmen for the military and the armed group said.
The western state has been torn by violence once again since early December, when fighting intensified between government forces and the Arakan Army, which wants more autonomy for the Buddhist Rakhine ethnic minority.
Rakhine was where a brutal military-led crackdown in 2017 drove hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims into bordering Bangladesh.
The recent fighting with the Arakan Army had forced 2,500 civilians to flee their homes by the end of last year, according to the United Nations.
Arakan Army spokesman Khine Thu Kha said the group attacked four police posts and later retrieved the corpses of seven “enemies”.
The group also detained 12 Myanmar security force members, he said. “We will process them according to international law. We will not harm them,” he said.
The attacks were a response to a Myanmar military offensive against the Arakan Army in recent weeks that had also targeted civilians, he said.
The Myanmar military last month announced a four-month halt in fighting in the north and northeast of the country to kick-start peace talks with multiple armed groups fighting for ethnic autonomy, but that announcement excluded Rakhine.
Myanmar state media earlier reported an attack by the same group on Tuesday that seriously injured one policemen.
Myanmar military spokesman Zaw Min Tun told Reuters security forces were responding to Friday’s attacks, which targeted police posts in the northern parts of Buthidaung and Maungdaw townships, a rugged area near the border with Bangladesh.
“The military will continue its operations in the area for security,” he said, declining to confirm how many people were killed and captured by the armed group.
“These police posts are there to protect the national races in the area so shouldn’t attack them,” Zaw Min Tun said, referring to mostly Buddhist ethnic groups in the area that are recognized as Myanmar citizens. Those groups include the Rakhine but not the Rohingya.
Zaw Min Tun said the attacks began minutes after the national flag was raised across Myanmar to mark 71 years since independence from Britain.
The Arakan Army’s Khine Thu Kha said the attacks were not intended to coincide with the anniversary.
“We are not independent yet. Today is not our Independence Day,” he said, referring to the Rakhine who he said faced discrimination in Myanmar.