YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — Myanmar’s military said Friday that 10 members of the paramilitary Border Guard Police are missing along with three of their family members after a predawn attack allegedly by the Arakan Army, an ethnic rebel group.
A statement on the website of the Office of the Commander-in-Chief of Defense Services said about 100 members of the rebel force, which claims to represent the Buddhist ethnic Rakhine minority, attacked a police post in Rakhine state’s Rathedaung township shortly after 2 a.m. Friday.
It said the attackers, armed with heavy and light weapons, overran the base, and police from another station had to help fight them off.
Myanmar’s military has faced its strongest challenge in several years from the well-armed and well-trained Arakan Army, one of many guerrilla groups representing the country’s ethnic minorities. Like most of the others, its seeks more autonomy from the central government.
The guerrillas have repeatedly been able to take the initiative against government forces, especially in nighttime raids on army and police posts. One of its hallmark practices is to capture and kidnap soldiers and officials, whom it features in propaganda posted online. One of the three missing family members from Friday’s attack is a child.
The government response has been to officially designate the Arakan Army a terrorist organization, and carry out military operations that critics say are ineffective and often directed against Rakhine civilians.
Rakhine state is where the military carried out a brutal 2017 counterinsurgency campaign against the Muslim Rohingya minority, causing about 740,000 to flee to neighboring Bangladesh. Attacks on police by a group of Rohingya rebels called the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, or ARSA, triggered the crackdown.
ARSA’s guerrillas, now largely inactive, were a ragtag band compared to the Arakan Army, and never were able to carry out sustained combat against the government.
The Arakan Army, founded in 2009, made its first show of strength in January last year, when it launched attacks that killed 13 police officers and wounded nine others.
The group is estimated to have several thousand well-organized uniformed members,and is known to have trained in areas controlled by other ethnic rebel forces, especially in the northern state of Kachin. It also has an alliance with several other rebel groups with whom on occasion it has coordinated actions.