YANGON—Peace is nowhere in sight in Rakhine State, and clashes there are likely to intensify now that the Myanmar military has deployed large numbers of troops in the state following the Arakan Army’s deadly Jan. 4 attacks on border outposts in Buthidaung Township, AA leader Major-General Tun Myat Naing said.
“We saw [more] troop deployments today too. They are coming in by air and by road, so it is very likely that future clashes will be fierce,” Tun Myat Naing told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday.
AA troops launched a coordinated attack on four Border Guard Police outposts in Buthidaung Township on Jan. 4, as Myanmar celebrated its 71st Independence Day.
Thirteen police were killed and nine others were injured in the attack. The AA also seized dozens of small arms and tens of thousands of rounds of ammunition.
Following the AA attacks, President U Win Myint convened a top-level coordination meeting on the afternoon of Jan. 7. It was attended by State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and Commander-in-Chief of Defence Services Senior General Min Aung Hlaing.
“The President’s Office has instructed the Defense Ministry [which oversees the Army] to increase troop deployments in the areas where the police stations were attacked on Friday and to use aircraft if necessary,” government spokesperson U Zaw Htay told reporters the same day.
Maj-Gen Tun Myat Naing said the AA’s attacks on the Border Guard Police outposts were justified because personnel based there had helped the Myanmar Army attack the AA in Rathedaung, Buthidaung, Kyauktaw and Ponnagyun townships in December.
He also accused the police and Myanmar Army of using civilians as human shields during their offensives against AA troops, and claimed that police were forcing civilians to serve as night guards for them.
“We’ve recorded the [identities of the] battalions that fired on us with artillery. We have made a detailed record of the police battalions and Border Guard Police units [that made military use of civilians]. We won’t forgive them for this. We will retaliate,” he said.
The AA would not let the Arakanese people be oppressed, he added.
Since clashes with the AA intensified in December, local civilians have alleged that Tatmadaw and Border Guard Police forced them to act as guides through forests, and beat them with rifle stocks. They also claim security personnel forced them to provide food.
At the press conference on Jan. 7, President’s Office spokesman U Zaw Htay accused the AA of having ties to the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) and of funding its own operations from the illegal drug trade.
He warned AA sympathizers to end their support for the group. “I want to tell AA supporters to think about whether the AA really can make Rakhine State better. Frankly speaking, please stop your support,” he said.
The AA has denied having links to ARSA.
“I heard [government and Tatmadaw officials] say that Rakhine will be completely ruined in the next 10 years or so, and that Rakhine will meet the same fate as Syria. So I believe that if they want to destroy our land [Rakhine State], we should destroy their [the Bamars’] land,” Maj-Gen Tun Myat Naing said.
“However, we are open to peace talks if our presence in Rakhine State is recognized,” he added.
The Arakanese community has responded angrily to the accusation by the President’s Office that the AA has ties to ARSA.
The Arakanese National Party released a statement objecting to U Zaw Htay’s remarks. No Arakanese political organizations, whether operating openly or underground, have any ties to any terrorist organizations, it said in a statement.
The fighting between the Tatmadaw and the AA in Buthidaung and Kyauktaw townships has displaced over 5,000 villagers.
Founded in 2009 by 26 Arakanese youths in Kachin State’s Laiza, the AA is now a 7,000-strong army. Since 2015, the ethnic armed group has been attempting to return to its homeland of Rakhine State, which has led to frequent clashes with Myanmar Army in Chin State’s Paletwa and parts of Rakhine over the last year.