Small blasts hit Rakhine town as Aung San Suu Kyi visits

By AFP

YANGON — Three small explosions went off in a southern Rakhine town in Myanmar on Thursday just before civilian leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi landed there in a rare visit to the conflict-ridden state, a local official said.

The blasts happened in the normally quiet town of Munaung on an island off Myanmar’s western coast where Aung San Suu Kyi was due to open a solar power plant.

“There were three explosions, but no casualties,” U Win Myint, spokesperson for the Rakhine State government, told AFP.

He said it happened before Aung San Suu Kyi arrived, but since they were on the other side of town the event went ahead as planned and she had since left safely on a flight to Yangon.

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“This has never happened in Munaung before,” he said. 

No group has yet claimed responsibility for planting the small bombs, which detonated at the side of a road, photos from local media showed.  

The area has remained largely unscathed by unrest further north, where Myanmar’s military is locked in an increasingly vicious conflict with the Arakan Army (AA).

The ethnic armed group claims to be fighting for more autonomy and rights for the ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and garners sympathy from many local people who have long felt marginalised in the Bamar-majority country.

But tens of thousands have fled their homes over the past year and dozens of civilians have been caught in the crossfire.

There have been allegations of abuse against both sides.

Rights groups say Myanmar’s military has abducted civilians and tortured detainees, but the army points to targeted shootings, roadside bombings and kidnappings by insurgents. 

One Indian construction worker died while being held hostage by the AA and an MP from the National League for Democracy, U Hawi Tin, has now been held for over six weeks.

A number of hostages seized by the AA in a raid on a ferry packed with scores of police and soldiers were killed in October, with each side blaming the other.

Rakhine State’s north was also the epicentre of a bloody military crackdown two years ago that forced some 740,000 Rohingya Muslims to flee over the border into Bangladesh.

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