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Civilians caught in the crossfire as fighting escalates between Myanmar military and armed group

By Heather Chen, Su Chay and Chloe Liu, CNN

(CNN) — Renewed hostilities between the Myanmar military and ethnic minority armed group the Arakan Army (AA) have spread to various townships in western Myanmar, including Pauktaw, where civilians have been caught in the crossfire as fighting escalates.

A former member of parliament from Pauktaw township, who asked not to be identified due to safety concerns, told CNN on Saturday that he had lost contact with people from the town and did not know what is happening.

“I left the town the day the fighting broke out. But there are elderly people, sick people and families with young children left as they could not make haste,” he said.

“It’s raining and a storm is coming too. It’s a devastating situation. It breaks my heart to see people in such a situation.”

Ongoing clashes between the Arakan Army and the military began in the Rathedaung township on November 13 and have since spread to the townships of Maungdaw, Kyauktaw, Minbya, Pauktaw, Ponnagyun, and Paletwa, according to a statement from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) on Friday.

The renewed fighting has displaced more than 26,000 people in the country’s western Rakhine state since Monday, according to UNOCHA.

The two parties had previously established an informal ceasefire in November 2022, according to the UN, but fighting broke out after the Arakan Army reportedly attacked two border posts.

In a statement released on Friday, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) said the latest figures brought the total number of internally displaced people due to the conflict between the two sides to approximately 90,000. It added that there had been reports of military shelling in Arakan Army-controlled areas.

Myanmar’s military had also conducted at least one operation backed by air and naval support, UNOCHA said.

Myanmar military spokesperson Zaw Min Tun said during a briefing Friday that the Myanmar army and police force had retaken the Pauktaw police station and that the town “was already under control” of the military.

Most humanitarian activities have been suspended due to the resurgence of the conflict and “virtually all roads and waterways” between townships in Rakhine have been blocked, according to OCHA.

Battles between the military and resistance groups have unfolded almost daily across Myanmar since army general Min Aung Hlaing seized power in February 2021, plunging the country into economic chaos and fresh civil war.

Airstrikes and ground attacks on what the Myanmar military calls “terrorist” targets have been occurred regularly since 2021 and have killed thousands of civilians to date, including children, according to monitoring groups.

Whole villages have been burned down by junta soldiers and schools, clinics and hospitals destroyed.

The son of a man from Pauktow who was killed as a result of the latest hostilities, told CNN that his father had been “hit by pieces of artillery at a meditation center” after Myanmar’s State Administration Council (SAC) soldiers started shooting at him “constantly.”

“I was told he was crying out of pain, I can’t imagine how he would be suffering in a pool of blood. The next morning, I got a call that he passed away at night,” the man said.

A family’s plight

U Nan Diya, Chaung Suak village’s abbot monk, told CNN that he had been assisting three fellow villagers – a father sick with heart disease, accompanied by his daughter and son-in-law.

Despite the family reaching a hospital two days before hostilities resumed, they remained stranded in a house in Pauktaw after the town “turned into a war zone,” U Nan Diya said.

The sick man’s daughter had attempted to look for a boat to return to their village but was arrested by soldiers on Friday, he added.

U Nan Diya said the 60-year-old man with heart disease was getting worse without medication. “(His) family wants him at their home instead of letting him die at a stranger’s house but nobody can go out or use the water route because the military navy is stationed in the sea, shooting everyone they see,” he said.

“The sick man can’t die peacefully.”

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