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300 Myanmar junta troops who fled attack return from Bangladesh

Myanmar flag. (Unsplash)
February 20, 2024

This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.

Some 300 members of a junta military unit and a border police force who fled to Bangladesh during an attack by the rebel Arakan Army have been repatriated to Myanmar, according to several Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh.

They were returned by sea on Thursday following a handover ceremony in Cox’s Bazar that was attended by five Myanmar junta officials and Myanmar’s ambassador to Bangladesh, a Rohingya refugee told Radio Free Asia.

“We learned that five representatives, including a police colonel of the Border Guard Police, came,” the Rohingya refugee said. “Also, we learned that Amb. Aung Kyaw Moe met with the chief of Border Guard Bangladesh and handed them over.”

Video showed uniformed Bangladesh guards escorting the junta troops and officers – some of them wounded – onto a ship. 

Cox’s Bazar is located on southeast Bangladesh’s coast near Myanmar’s western Rakhine state. Over the last decade, almost 1 million Rohingya refugees have fled from Myanmar to the Cox’s Bazar area, which has become the world’s largest refugee camp. 

The junta border guards who crossed over to Bangladesh were retreating from an attack by the ethnic Arakan Army on the Taung Pyo Let Yar outpost and a nearby strategic hill in Rakhine’s Maungdaw township on Feb. 4.

AA takes control of Myebon

The attack marked the latest blow to Myanmar’s military junta in Rakhine state, where the Arakan Army, or AA, ended a ceasefire in November that had been in place since the junta assumed power in a Feb. 1, 2021, coup d’etat.

A total of 330 people crossed over to Bangladesh in early February, including Lt. Col. Kyaw Naing Soe, the commander of the junta’s No. 2 Border Guard Police battalion, 302 soldiers, four family members, two other military personnel, 18 immigration officers and four civilians, according to RFA sources on the Bangladesh border.

Elsewhere in Rakhine, the AA said it has captured all military council camps and police stations in Myebon township. The Arakan Army said in a statement on Thursday that it now controls seven towns in the state.

The AA has recently launched offensives in townships near the state capital of Sittwe, including Rathedaung and Buthidaung.

There are reports that the AA has warned the junta’s regional operations command in Sittwe, the Rakhine state capital, to surrender.

The junta has not released a statement about recent developments in Rakhine, and RFA’s calls to Hla Thein, junta’s spokesperson and attorney general of the Rakhine state, went unanswered on Friday.

Rebel victory in Kayah state

The junta has also suffered a loss to rebels in northeast Kayah state, where the Karenni Nationalities Defense Force, or KNDF, announced Friday that it had gained complete control of Shadaw city after a month-long battle.

The KNDF began attacking junta outposts surrounding a strategic hill in Shadaw on Jan. 15, the group said in a statement. 

On Jan. 21, they began a siege to a junta base after troops refused to surrender and the junta dropped in another 70 troops by helicopter, the KNDF said. A final attack on the base began on Monday. 

More than 160 junta soldiers, including a colonel and a lieutenant colonel, were either killed or captured, the KNDF said.

The junta hasn’t released a statement on the battle. RFA’s calls to junta spokesman Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun to seek comments on the KNDF’s claims went unanswered.