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More clashes in Myanmar’s Rakhine state

Myanmar’s military has called in air strikes and naval bombardments against an ethnic minority armed group on an island hosting a planned billion-dollar China-backed deep sea port, the group and local media said. Clashes have rocked Rakhine state since last month after the Arakan Army (AA) launched attacks on security forces, ending a shaky ceasefire that had largely held since the military seized power in a coup in 2021. The attacks in the western state opened another front for the military as it battles the so-called “Three Brotherhood Alliance” alliance of ethnic minority fighters, which includes the AA, in the north of the country. On Tuesday a naval vessel bombarded Ramree town on Ramree island, the alliance said on its Telegram channel. During fighting with the AA in the area on Monday, junta forces called in air strikes and fired from naval ships, the alliance said. Local media reported civilians had been killed and wounded in the firing on Ramree town. The AA said it had seized “military equipment” following the clash on Monday, without giving details. Ramree island is home to a planned China-backed deep sea port that when completed will serve as gateway for Beijing to the Indian Ocean. The planned port near Kyaukphyu, around 50 kilometres (30 miles) from Ramree town, is the centrepiece of the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC) project — a key thread in China’s global Belt and Road vision. Construction on the port and a nearby special economic zone has been stalled amid on-off unrest in Rakhine state. AFP has contacted China’s embassy in Yangon for comment. Clashes between the AA and the military roiled the region in 2019, and in 2017 the military launched a crackdown on the Rohingya minority that is now the subject of a United Nations genocide court case. Local media reported this week that authorities had banned all fishing and transport boats from the waters around Kyaukphyu until February next year. Last week the AA said it had seized three military bases in neighbouring Chin state near the border with Bangladesh. More than 110,000 people have been displaced by the recent clashes in Chin and Rakhine states, the United Nations said last week. The AA has for years fought a war for the autonomy of the state’s ethnic Rakhine population in their home near the Bangladesh border. Clashes between the AA and the military in 2019 displaced more than 200,000 people across Rakhine state, home to around one million people.

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