26 Murders in Rakhine Still Unsolved; Myanmar Military and AA Trade Blame

By Moe Moe 30 September 2019

NAYPYITAW—Twenty-six people including police and civilians have been murdered in northern Rakhine State since December, according to the Myanmar military’s True News Information Team.

Sixteen civilians and 10 police officers and village administrators have been killed, according to the True News team, outside of clashes between the Arakan Army (AA) and the Myanmar military.

“These kinds of incidents have only happened since the AA entered [Rakhine State],” said Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun during a military press conference on Saturday in Naypyitaw.

All of the killings remain unsolved and authorities say they have been unable to identify any suspects or motives.

More than 70,000 people have been displaced in northern Rakhine State including Rathedaung, Buthidaung, Kyauktaw, Ponnagyun and Mrauk-U townships since clashes broke out between the AA and the Myanmar military on Nov. 30 last year.

The military, known as the Tatmadaw, has kept a division of troops stationed in Mrauk-U since 1990. According to Brig-Gen Zaw Min Tun, they have never had a problem with local residents and innocent civilians have only been murdered since the AA insurgency broke out.

The AA, however, claims the Tatmadaw is committing war crimes in the area.

“We have recorded war crimes committed by the military with strong evidence. We are cooperating with the international community to reveal them,” said AA spokesperson Khaing Thukha.

U Pe Than, a member of the Arakan National Party (ANP)’s Central Executive Committee, said the unsolved crimes have undermined the rule of law and in turn encouraged more killings because no perpetrators have been held accountable.

While the AA and the Tatmadaw have blamed each other for the killings, U Pe Than said it is also possible that some of the crimes stemmed from personal disputes.

“If a third party, disguised as the AA or Tatmadaw, has killed civilians, that organization should claim responsibility. Both sides now say they don’t murder civilians, but people are dying frequently,” he said.

The Tatmadaw declared a unilateral ceasefire in December 2018 for much of the country that lasted for nine months but the declaration didn’t apply to Rakhine State.

The Tatmadaw has recently been fighting with three members of the Northern Alliance—the AA, the Ta’ang National Liberation Army and the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army—in Shan and Kachin states since the three groups launched coordinated attacks on several sites including a military academy in Mandalay Region in August.

AA spokesperson Khaing Thukha said clashes are likely to intensify in Rakhine State as the military has brought in reinforcements.

“Fighting happens daily not because our brotherhood launches attacks but because the Tatmadaw launches attacks. The clashes may end if the military halts its assaults,” said Khaing Thukha.

Officials from the Tatmadaw and the Northern Alliance groups met with government peace negotiators for talks brokered by China in Shan State’s Kengtung on Aug. 31 and Sept. 17 but no agreement was reached to stop the fighting. Brig-Gen Zaw Min Tun said the three ethnic armed groups are not interested in peace.

The AA was established in 2009 in Kachin State’s Laiza with the support of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and in 2014 stated its dream of moving to Rakhine State. The Tatmadaw considers the AA an insurgent group and has said it will not allow the AA to establish its base in Rakhine.

The AA claims to have the full support of the ethnic Rakhine people and says it would prefer political dialogue to fighting, as local residents bear the brunt of violence in Rakhine State.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.