Spotlight - The Looming Battle for Sittwe: March 12, 2024

The Arakan Army (AA) claims it has recently taken control of the townships surrounding Sittwe, the capital city of Rakhine State in Myanmar. Unless the security forces loyal to nation’s military junta, the State Administrative Council (SAC), find a way to move in reinforcements and weaponry, the AA appears poised to seize control of Sittwe and the important port of Kyaukpyu, and eventually all of Rakhine State. 

On March 4, the AA announced it had taken control of Ponnagyun Township, northeast of Sittwe. Two days later, the AA claimed it had defeated SAC forces in Ramree Township, southeast of the port of Kyaukpyu. According to the AA, it has also made significant progress in winning control of other townships nearby Sittwe, including Buthidaung, Maungdaw, and Rathedaung, sealing off the city by both land and by sea.

The city of Sittwe and the port of Kyaukpyu are important to the SAC, as they provide a critical source of revenue and foreign currency for the military junta. Sittwe is vital for Myanmar’s oil and gas trade via the Indian Ocean; Kyaukpyu is the endpoint for the transportation corridor from China’s Yunnan Province to the Indian Ocean. 

On March 4, the AA restated that its goal “is to fight for the liberation of the entirety of Rakhine state.” The capture of Sittwe and Kyaukpyu are the mostly likely next objectives in its military campaign. Without more troops and weaponry, the SAC forces are unlikely to be able to stop the AA from achieving its goal. It is unknown if China will welcome an AA victory in Rakhine State, or seek to negotiate another limited ceasefire agreement in Myanmar.

Michael F. Martin is an adjunct fellow (non-resident) with the Southeast Asia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.

Michael Martin
Adjunct Fellow (Non-resident), Southeast Asia Program