Pauktaw Turns Battlefield

Pauktaw, a once peaceful town in northern Arakan State, has become a battlefield in the latest fighting between the Myanmar military and the Arakan Army (AA).

By Admin 01 Dec 2023

Pauktaw Turns Battlefield

Written by Thurein

Pauktaw, a once peaceful town in northern Arakan State, has become a battlefield in the latest fighting between the Myanmar military and the Arakan Army (AA).

Fighting erupted in Pauktaw town on November 16 after the AA attacked and occupied the town’s central police station. 

Regime forces have since pounded the town using warplanes, warships and ground troops, forcing thousands of residents to flee.

“As [junta troops] fired artillery and warplanes strafed, we hid in strong brick buildings,”  said Daw Ma Tin Aye from Pauktaw. “As soon as the warplanes retreated, we fled Pauktaw town. I could only walk since I left the town. It is not convenient for me to run or walk long distances because of my age. What’s more, the roads are in bad condition.”

Residents fleeing fighting in Pauktaw are pictured on November 16.

Large numbers of junta troops raided Pauktaw town on November 16 following the bombardment, and hundreds of residents were trapped in the town.

At least 20 civilians were killed or injured in junta strikes, and trapped civilians were held hostage by junta troops.

The AA carried out a rescue operation on November 21, resulting in fierce clashes. The AA said it was able to rescue some residents held hostage by the regime, extracting 104 residents the following day. More residents were rescued on November 28.

Residents trapped in Pauktaw town said they faced psychological and physical threats from junta troops.

“When they spotted us, they fired shots at us, and we tried to flee. They told us not to flee and to hold our hands up. They didn’t shoot us. They told me to get down on the pagoda grounds, and told us not to look up, and threatened to kill us all,” said a Pauktaw resident who was detained by junta troops. “They then asked us if there were any AA members among us.”

Junta spokesman Major-General Zaw Min Tun told junta-controlled state broadcaster MRTV on November 22 that the AA drove residents of Pauktaw town away in order to occupy the town.

Fighting continues daily in Pauktaw as the AA tries to rescue the remaining trapped residents, and the regime carries out a joint operation to secure the town.

AA members during fighting in Pauktaw Township, Arakan State. (Photo: AA Info Desk)

Political observers say the regime and AA are vying for control of Pauktaw due to its strategic location.

“The battle for Pauktaw is the first attack by the ULA/AA to seize a town. Pauktaw is the gateway to Sittwe, and is strategically located for water transport,” said political analyst U Pe Than. “If the ULA/AA seizes Pauktaw, it will be a great military and economic disadvantage for the regime. So, the two sides are vying for it.”

The junta bombardment has been inflicting serious damage to Pauktaw as the fighting intensifies day after day. Some houses in Bawan, No. 1 and No. 2 wards have been damaged by shelling, and the central market has been reduced to ashes.

A 70-year-old woman trapped in Pauktaw town was killed in a junta artillery strike on November 25.

Homes burning in Pauktaw are pictured on November 25. 

The battle for Pauktaw continued over the weekend, entering its third consecutive week. A once peaceful town beside the Kyweku River, Pauktaw is now heavily scarred by the conflict between the military and Arakan Army. The longer the hostilities continue, the more one wonders: Will Pauktaw survive the fighting?