Myanmar rebels carry out unprecedented attack on military academy

Ethnic armed rebel groups have for decades fought against the Myanmar military, above, for land and resources in the country’s east. (AFP)
Updated 15 August 2019

Myanmar rebels carry out unprecedented attack on military academy

  • Ethnic armed rebel groups have for decades fought against the military for land and resources in Myanmar’s east
  • Assault targeted Pyin Oo Lwin, that is also home to barracks teeming with soldiers receiving training

YANGON: Myanmar’s military was Thursday fighting rebels who mounted an unprecedented strike at an army academy killing at least one, apparently in retaliation for massive drug seizures.
Ethnic armed rebel groups have for decades fought against the military — and often between themselves — for land and resources in Myanmar’s east.
Experts say the area is now the world’s largest meth-producing region, funding the complex web of conflicts.
Thursday’s brazen assault targeted Pyin Oo Lwin, a tourist town near Mandalay, that is also home to barracks teeming with soldiers receiving training.
Images from local media showed burned out cars riddled with bullet holes and damaged buildings showered in debris.
The Taaung National Liberation Army (TNLA) said the group launched attacks in retaliation for military offensives.
“Fighting took place at five places this morning,” TNLA spokesman Major Mai Aik Kyaw said, but clashes were ongoing.
One strike targeted the Defense Service Technology Academy (DSTA) where military engineers are trained, while another hit a police station near the region’s landmark Gokteik bridge, a rail route popular with sightseers.
Mai Aik Kyaw said the group mounted the attacks in coordination with the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) and Arakan Army (AA).
The AA is currently fighting the military, or Tatmadaw, in the conflict-scarred western Rakhine state, but is in a tight alliance with the other rebel groups.
Military spokesman Brig. Gen. Zaw Min Tun confirmed all five attacks, saying one civilian had so far been killed in the crossfire and two members of the security forces had been injured.
“We assume they carried out the attacks because the Tatmadaw seized tons of drugs a few weeks ago,” he said.
In July, narcotics police were met with heavy artillery fire when they launched a major drugs crackdown in Kutkai township in neighboring Shan state.
Huge stockpiles of chemicals as well as millions of dollars’ worth of ice, the highly addictive crystalized form of meth, were seized in a single raid.
The “Golden Triangle” — a lawless wedge of land intersecting China, Myanmar, Thailand, and Laos — has long served as a base for opium and heroin production.
A cease-fire in Shan state declared by the military in December is officially due to finish in two weeks even though clashes with armed groups have continued.
China’s plans to invest in major infrastructure projects have added another dimension to the conflict with groups vying for control of increasingly valuable territory.


UK PM Boris Johnson urged to be ‘tougher’ on Iran

Updated 25 January 2020

UK PM Boris Johnson urged to be ‘tougher’ on Iran

  • Richard Ratcliffe says his jailed wife is ‘being held hostage’ by Tehran
  • Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was detained in 2016 and sentenced to five years in prison

LONDON: The husband of a British-Iranian woman jailed by Tehran over charges of espionage has urged the UK to be “tougher” with the regime.

Richard Ratcliffe made the comments after a meeting with UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson in London on Thursday. 

Ratcliffe said there had been “no breakthrough” in discussions between the two nations to secure her release, and his wife was being used as a “chess piece” by Iran. 

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was detained in 2016 and sentenced to five years in prison for “plotting to topple the Iranian government.” She and her family maintain that she was in the country to visit relatives.Speaking outside the prime minister’s residence in Downing Street, Ratcliffe told reporters that the meeting had been warm in nature, but hinted that the government was not doing enough.

“The prime minister was there, the foreign secretary was there, (we) talked quite openly about having tried a number of different things to get Nazanin home,” he said. 

“We pressed him (Johnson) to be brave. I want him to push forward on improving relations. You need to be imposing a cost on Iran for holding innocent people as leverage, you’ve got to be brave there as well. The government doesn’t always say it, but in my view, Nazanin is being held hostage.”

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office was not immediately available for comment when contacted by Arab News.

The Downing Street meeting comes ahead of an impending court case over a long-term trade dispute between the UK and Iran, with London accused of owing Tehran debts over an arms deal from the 1970s.

Labour Party MP Tulip Siddiq, who represents the parliamentary seat of Hampstead and Kilburn, where Zaghari-Ratcliffe and her family live, called on the government to settle the debt in order to help facilitate her release.

But MP Jacob Rees-Mogg, the leader of the House of Commons, told the BBC that the issue was “extraordinarily difficult.” 

He suggested that setting a precedent of capitulating on legal disputes in return for the release of UK nationals could entice foreign governments and groups to threaten other UK citizens abroad. “The risk that would pose to British citizens traveling abroad would be very considerable,” he said.

Johnson was blamed by many in 2017, when he was foreign secretary, for having worsened Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s situation in Iran when, in a statement to the House of Commons, he claimed that he had been briefed that she was in Tehran training journalists. 

Despite claims from other politicians, her family and her employer, the Thompson Reuters Foundation, that he had been misinformed, the statement was subsequently used as evidence against her in court.