Myanmar rebels accused of attacking Bangladesh military

Ambush has all the hallmarks of Arakan Army, says former army chief
Myanmar rebels accused of attacking Bangladesh military

A file image of leaders of the Arakan Army, ethnic rebel group, gather with other rebel leaders and representatives of various Myanmar ethnic rebel groups at the opening of a four-day conference in July 26, 2016. (AFP photo)

Two recent attacks on Bangladesh military patrol teams in a hilly southeastern border district might have been carried out by insurgents from Rakhine State in neighboring Myanmar, say analysts and observers.

A 17-member military convoy came under gunfire in the Rajasthali area of Rangamati district in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) on the morning of Aug. 18. The attack injured two soldiers, one of whom later died in a hospital, according to local police.

The second attack occurred the same evening when a landmine went off, leaving two more soldiers injured.

“The army convoys were part of regular patrols in the area when they were ambushed,” M. Mofazal Khan, officer in-charge of Rajasthali police, told “This is the first attack that has targeted military in the area for years. A tense situation now prevails and army patrols have increased.”

There were several reasons to believe it was the work of Myanmar’s Arakan Army (AA) rebels, says retired Brigadier M. Shakhawat Hossain, a security analyst based in the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka. These included the targeting of the military, photographs taken of the attackers and the fact modern weapons were used.

“Since the 1997 Peace Accord that ended armed conflict in the CHT, the military has never come under attack although armed rivalry between ethnic tribal groups has continued,” Hossain said. “Unlike local ethnic insurgents they wore uniforms, used modern weapons and attacked in a much more organized style.”

The AA is an ethnic Rakhine Buddhist insurgent outfit that for years has been fighting the Myanmar military to win independence for the state.

In recent months, the AA stepped up skirmishes with Myanmar military, reports also appearing in Myanmar and Bangladeshi media that the outfit was seeking new recruits in bordering villages.

The escalation of the conflict in Rakhine State comes months after the crackdown by Myanmar’s military on Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine and the consequent exodus of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya into Bangladesh.

Hossain, who served in the CHT in 1992, said the attacks might be both “provocative and seeking revenge.”

Arakan Army's increasing activity

“A few months ago, the Bangladesh military detained some leaders of the Arakan Army and handed them over to Myanmar authorities,” he said. “So the attack might an act of revenge. On the other hand, it might be looking for new recruits amid a tense situation in the hills.”

In recent times, local people have heard about presence of AA insurgents in the area, noted Shantimoy Chakma, an ethnic Chakma Buddhist and a local journalist in Rangamati.

“No one witnessed the attacks except the military, but in recent times people have been discussing the presence of the Arakan Army and another insurgent group, the Burma Liberation Army,” Chakma told “Our military has not come under attack since 1997, so people are panicked and the area has become ‘no-go-zone’ since the attacks.”

The CHT is a hilly, forested region comprising Bandarban, Rangamati and Khagrachhari districts bordering India and Myanmar. This mountainous region is home to dozens of ethnic groups, mostly Buddhists and some Christians.

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The region has seen an influx of Bengali Muslim settlers under state patronage since the late 1970s, triggering land disputes and sectarian violence.

Ethnic groups formed a militia and started attacking settlers, and in response the government militarized the region.

For two decades a “bush war” continued between the military and ethnic insurgents. The conflict ended with the 1997 Peace Accord but the lush, green CHT still remains a restive region.

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