Armed group seizes tourist beachfront town

AN ethnic armed group has seized the country’s most popular beach resort town, with junta troops holed up in a nearby airport, military and local sources said.

Clashes have rocked western Rakhine state since the Arakan Army (AA) attacked the military there in November, ending a ceasefire that had largely held since the 2021 military coup.

For days, fighting has raged around Ngapali beach in the south of the state, where upmarket resorts dot the pristine, palm-fringed sands of the Indian Ocean.

The town of Thandwe, a few kilometres from the beach and home to the local airport, was largely deserted as of Monday, a resident who fled that day said.

“Almost everyone in the town has fled ... Very few people are now in Thandwe,” said the resident, who requested anonymity for security reasons. “A rocket shell landed in the town yesterday. We also heard continuous heavy artillery shelling.”

A military source, speaking on condition of anonymity, told AFP that security forces had retreated to the airport and were in control of the site.

A local hotel owner who was no longer in the town told AFP his staff said the military had carried out airstrikes near the airport on Monday. His employees told him there were “some army and police trapped inside the airport building.”

AFP was unable to reach a junta spokesman for comment and has contacted an AA spokesman. Thandwe airport has been closed since early this month as AA fighters launched attacks in the area.

Analysts say many of the hotels and resorts at Ngapali are owned by businessmen close to the junta, or are part of the military’s sprawling business empire that includes everything from gems to tourism to tobacco.

Since launching its offensive in November, the AA has seized territory along the border with India and Bangladesh, piling further pressure on the junta as it battles opponents elsewhere across the Southeast Asian country. — AFP

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