Ethnic Issues

Arakan Army Chief: ‘Fresh Clashes Could Break Out at Any Time’

By Nan Lwin Hnin Pwint 11 January 2016

Clashes erupted between the Arakan Army and the Burma Army around Mt. Yam Chaung, in Kyauktaw Township, from Dec. 27 to Jan. 4. Though conflict has subsided, tensions remain high and hundreds of villagers have already been displaced by the fighting.

Myawady Daily, a military-owned newspaper, reported on Jan. 7 that the Burma Army had suffered casualties during the 9-day conflict. The newspaper referred to the Arakan Army, an ethnic armed group that has been excluded from peace negotiations, as an insurgent group, vowing that the the government forces would “annihilate” them.

The Irrawaddy recently spoke with Arakan Army Commander-in-Chief Tun Myat Naing about what happened in Kyauktaw and how his views on the peace process.

What is the current situation in Kyauktaw Township?

There is no fighting for the time being, but there is a lot of military activity. [The Burma Army] has brought in reinforcements; Division 66 has also come in. We were clashing with two military operation commands of the Burma Army, Sittwe Regional Operations Command and troops based in Ann Township. As our forces are mobile forces, we fight sometimes and withdraw sometimes, as necessary. We have heard from civilians that Burma Army battalions from Pegu are also coming in. As there is a lot of military activity, fresh clashes could break out at any time.

Would you like to comment on the Jan. 7 issue of Myawady Daily [which states that the Burma Army will annihilate the Arakan ‘insurgents’]?

If issued as a government press release, the government should take more responsibility [to verify facts]. A news report should not be published recklessly. The word ‘annihilate’ reflects [the government’s lack of] political will and implies that they do not want to find a political solution. So it seems that we should give it serious thought and make preparations.

The report said that the Arakan Army had used snipers during the conflict, and is planning to hold talks with terrorist groups at the border to establish a base within the state. Is this true?

This is a baseless accusation intended to ruin our image. The government should not put groundless information and emotions in its newspaper releases. Regarding the conflict, I am not supposed to disclose information about our weapons, forces and tactics as it concerns military security. But I can confirm that no allied force is helping us in these clashes. In Arakan State, we are the sole forces.

How many casualties were there among the Arakan troops?

Two lost their lives and three had minor injuries. They [the Burma Army] took one of the two bodies. They said they took three bodies, but that isn’t true.

At present, the Arakan Army troops are mobile. Do you plan to establish any bases?

Given the circumstances, it would be difficult for us to establish bases right now. We have been in the area for a long time, but the Burma Army didn’t know [hence there had been no prior conflict]. We are active in the area, but not to the extent of provoking conflict. I don’t think we need to receive the recognition of the government as many have suggested, but we believe without a doubt that the Arakan Army has the absolute right to live in Arakan State. We are just now asserting that right.

What are your views on the political dialogue that will begin on Jan. 12?

We have no faith in it, regardless of the words used to describe it. In resolving political problems, we should stop doing things for show and do things that bring real benefit to the country and the people. How can the rest of the ethnic groups accept the NCA [nationwide ceasefire agreement, signed on Oct. 15] while it doesn’t include all of us? Again, the government has said that it has also invited non-signatories, but no one is naïve enough to show up and be exploited while they have no right to participate. They are not as naïve as they were in 1946, 47.

What will the peace process look like under the new government? The military will continue to play a major role in the process, but there are still tensions between the Burma Army and the non-signatories. Will this be a challenge for the new government?

It will be a huge challenge. The next government should boldly take decisive action, rather than trying not to offend the military. If they would avoid doing something because the military might not like it, their slogan—‘time to change’—will come to nothing and we will be at a political impasse. Therefore, they might need a great deal of courage, responsibility and solutions to overcome huge challenges.

The Burma Army is concerned that the Arakan Army will establish its base in Arakan State and this concern might be directly related to the state’s resources. At present, they manage the investments as they please, and hardly anyone will point them out or speak out against them. Therefore, they use military force where they could find a political solution.

Would you like to add any further comments?

It would be best to find a political solution. We are ready for it. It is the best, I would say. If the government wants to make ‘annihilation’ its priority, then we’ll have to find other means.