A Myanmar rebel group said on Monday that junta troops attacked its fighters in breach of a ceasefire, accusing the military of trying to destabilise the only region of the country that has seen no post-coup crackdown.

The Southeast Asian country has been in chaos since last February’s putsch, with a brutal crackdown on dissent and increased fighting in borderlands involving ethnic armed organisations.

Days after the coup, the junta reaffirmed a commitment to a ceasefire with the Arakan Army (AA), which has for years fought a war for autonomy for Rakhine state’s ethnic Rakhine population.

On Friday junta troops entered an AA base in Maungdaw township, sparking three hours of clashes, a spokesperson for the group said, adding one of its fighters had been killed.

“There is high tension militarily, which could break out any time,” he said. “It seems as if the military wants to destabilise Rakhine’s stability and calm.”

A junta spokesman said a number of border police had been killed in a mine attack on February 4, but blamed a local Rohingya insurgent group for the attack.

“We are still investigating the presence of the AA situation there,” said spokesman Zaw Min Tun.

Clashes between the AA and the military in 2019 displaced more than 200,000 people across the state, one of Myanmar’s poorest.

After the coup, the junta ended a 19-month internet shutdown in the state of around one million.

The AA previously reported its fighters had clashed with junta troops in November.

Rakhine state, home to both the Rohingya and a largely Buddhist ethnic Rakhine majority, has been a tinderbox of conflict for decades.

The military drove out more than 740,000 Rohingya Muslims from the state in a 2017 campaign that United Nations investigators have called genocide.

Rights groups have also accused soldiers of committing war crimes including extrajudicial killings in their later campaign against the AA.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has backtracked on his declaration on Monday that an Australian economist detained for almost a year in Myanmar had been released — hours after the junta regime denied the claim.

Sean Turnell was working as an adviser to Myanmar civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi when he was detained shortly after the coup in February last year.

He has been charged with violating Myanmar’s official secrets law and faces a maximum penalty of 14 years in prison if found guilty.

On Monday morning, Hun Sen said Turnell had “been released” the previous day but by the evening he issued a retraction on Facebook saying he had “received the wrong information”. “I would like to ask for understanding for this unintentional mistake,” he said in the Facebook post.

The Cambodian strongman, who met with Myanmar’s junta chief last month, said earlier on Monday that he had passed on a request from the Australian government for Turnell’s release.


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