AA Must Give Up Goal of Confederation: Myanmar Military

By Nyein Nyein 18 January 2019

The Myanmar military (or Tatmadaw) said peace talks with the Arakan Army would be able to move forward only when the AA changes its political view and gives up its goal of Rakhine becoming part of a confederation of states.

Tatmadaw leaders held a press conference regarding the current situation in Rakhine State and the ongoing peace process in Naypyitaw on Friday.

“It depends on the AA whether they join the path of political negotiation,” said Major-General Soe Naing Oo, the chairman of the Tatmadaw’s True News Information Team, on whether the Tatmadaw would hold political negotiations with the group.

“We will think about whether to move forward, depending on the AA’s actions,” he said. They have spoken of a confederation [as their preferred political system], but that is the opposite direction from the current path to building a democratic federal union that the government, Tatmadaw and the people have agreed upon.”

He reiterated the Tatmadaw’s stance that the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA)—agreement on which was achieved after many hurdles had been overcome—has all the elements needed to build a democratic federal union.

The Tatmadaw announced a unilateral ceasefire applying to its five Military Commands in the north and northeast of Myanmar on Dec. 21 after three ethnic armed groups (EAOs) released a statement claiming they would give up armed struggle and seek a political settlement. The groups were the Ta’ang Nationalities Liberation Army (TNLA), the AA and Kokang-based Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA).

However, fighting between the Tatmadaw and AA troops continues in western Myanmar. Tensions mounted after the AA attacked police outposts in Rakhine State’s Buthidaung Township on Jan. 4.

There were more than 170 clashes between the AA and the Tatmadaw’s troops between March 2015 and Jan. 16 of this year. Some 60 AA soldiers and undisclosed numbers of Tatmadaw soldiers have died in the clashes, and the Tatmadaw has seized weapons and ammunitions from the AA, according to Major -General Tun Tun Nyi, the vice chair of the Tatmadaw’s True News Information Team.

He declined to reveal the number of casualties sustained by the Tatmadaw, saying the Tatmadaw “does not release such data on casualties unnecessarily” while operations are ongoing.

The AA has consistently published information on captured soldiers or police and seized ammunition and weaponry over the past four years, releasing pictures and videos. According to the group, dozens of Myanmar military soldiers have been killed.

On Friday, Tatmadaw generals justified the exclusion of the Western Military Command from their truce by saying that Rakhine is still under threat from the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, adding that they do not consider the AA to be based in Rakhine.

“The AA was initiated in the Laiza area” in the Kachin Independence Army’s stronghold “and still based there, thus the truce was intended for the northern and northeast based EAOs,” said Maj-Gen. Tun Tun Nyi.

He said the Tatmadaw is acting to prevent further attacks by ARSA in the west, particularly in the
Mayu mountains, near Buthidaung and Maungdaw townships, where ARSA launched coordinated attacks against Border Guard Police outposts in October 2016 and August 2017.

The Army would “completely destroy ARSA, if they happen to enter into these areas,” he said.

Another spokesperson, Brigadier-General Zaw Min Tun, added that engagements between the Tatmadaw and troops belonging to EAOs are between combatants, which are different from attacks upon police.

“Police are not combatants. Thus the AA took advantage, like ARSA, by attacking outposts with less security [in Rakhine State]… and it is an attack on the government mechanism,” he added

Thus, the generals said they were following instruction by State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to destroy the insurgency, as the AA were regarded as insurgents.

The Army quoted Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, saying that, “State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said the AA is an insurgent group at a meeting on Jan. 7 at the Presidential House. She instructed us to effectively crush the AA and if not, there will be finger-pointing that [the Tatmadaw] does not crush the AA as it is an ethnic group, but it crushed ARSA, who practice a different religion.”

It added “The President’s Office order on Jan. 4 instructed the Tatmadaw to coordinate with the police and to use more military force and to use military aircraft to crack down on the AA.”

The generals said that while the Tatmadaw has the right to act independently under Chapter 7 of the Constitution (which confers upon the Commander in Chief the right to exercise absolute power to safeguard the country), they would work together with the government when important matters come up.

Article 339 of Chapter 7 states that “The Defense Services shall lead in safeguarding the Union against all internal and external dangers.”

Seven and a half years of fighting between the Tatmadaw and EAOs in the northeast, north and west have left some 180,000 internally displaced people sheltering in some 167 camps in government-controlled areas, according to the Tatmadaw. There are another more than 37,000 IDPs are taking shelter in EAO-controlled areas.

The officers also talked about the Tatmadaw’s stance on the current peace process. Regarding the issues of a single army and self-determination, Maj-Gen. Soe Naing Oo added that the Tatmadaw stands firmly by its policy that there can be only one Army, as in any other country. It said the issue of self-determination would have to be resolved in accordance with the NCA.

In addition, the general reiterated the Tatmadaw’s policy towards the EAOs by saying that, “We want to officially tell the EAOs that if they want to take part in politics, they must disown armed struggle and form political parties; if they want to enter business, they must establish a company, and if they want to protect the country—join the Army.”

The generals reaffirmed that the Tatmadaw firmly intends to achieve peace for the people by 2020, as the Army chief envisioned one-and-a-half years ago.

However, fighting continues between EAOs based in Shan State despite the announcement of a four-month truce. There was one engagement between the Tatmadaw and the RCSS near Mong Pan on Dec. 27; the Tatmadaw accused the RCSS of attacking one of its military columns.

The generals added that they had fulfilled the demands of the ethnic groups that the Tatmadaw initiate a unilateral ceasefire, which had started with five military commands, but added, “look what is happening now” in the northeast, citing that the inter-ethnic fighting.

The Army said troop movements by almost every EAO in the region—RCSS, SSPP, KIA, TNLA, MNDAA and UWSA—continued. They accused some EAOs of conducting new recruitment of local residents and extorting money.

The Tatmadaw added that it had been wrongly blamed for the interethnic fighting in Shan State, where the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) and the Ta’ang Nationalities Liberation Army (TNLA), Shan State Progressive Party/Shan State Army North (SSPP/SSAN) are fighting, as well as the Pa’O National Liberation Organization.

EAOs often accuse the Tatmadaw of using a divide and rule policy in states with different EAOs and local militia groups.

Citing the continuous clashes in Shan State, the Tatmadaw warned the EAOs that if any of the groups violated section 5, 6 and 7 of its truce, they would take the necessary actions.

Section 5 urges all EAOs to “comply with four of its policies: to respect the ceasefire agreements, not to exploit the peace agreements, not to burden local residents, and to abide by existing laws. In section 6, the Tatmadaw urges “the EAOs not to have interethnic fighting and not to cause a burden to the local residents.” In section 7, the Tatmadaw says, “EAOs must take responsibility not to destroy the government’s administrative mechanism, not to damage the livelihoods of the people and to ensure safety in road transport.”

“The Army won’t tolerate any violations of these section 5, 6 and 7,” added Maj-Gen. Soe Naing Oo.

As regards the rise of demands for a confederation and having their own states made by some minority ethnic groups like the AA and Kachin groups based in exile, the Tatmadaw made it clear that it “won’t tolerate damaging the Three National Causes.”