AA Accuses EU of Pro-Gov’t Bias in Statements on Rakhine Conflict

By Moe Myint 15 March 2019

YANGON—The Arakan Army (AA) says it will stop targeting police task force members in Rakhine State when the European Union guarantees that police have ended what it says is their assistance to repressive operations by the Myanmar military against the Arakanese public in Rakhine.

The demand comes after the EU’s Wednesday joint statement which said the AA’s killing of nine police from Yoe Ta Yoke police station in restive northern Rakhine State’s Ponnagyun Township the previous week “could not be justified.”

The EU urged the AA and the Myanmar military to end their armed violence citing the grave deterioration in the humanitarian situation in northern Rakhine and neighboring Chin State’s Paletwa region. It called on the civilian government led by the National League for Democracy (NLD) and the AA to resolve their historical grievances through dialogue and an inclusive political process.

It encouraged both sides to respect their obligations under international humanitarian law to protect civilians and allow the delivery of humanitarian aid. It mentioned that restrictions on humanitarian work by aid agencies in five townships—Rathedaung, Buthidaung, Maungdaw, Ponnagyun and Kyauktaw—were having “a serious impact on the already precarious humanitarian situation of at least 95,000 people.”

The EU demanded that authorities reopen access to humanitarian aid workers and local seasonal agricultural workers before the coming monsoon season.

After the EU statement on Wednesday, the AA published a series of photos in which fire brigade officers and high-ranking police officers were seen pictured alongside dozens of army majors in a joint military operation elsewhere in Myanmar.

Regarding the EU’s joint statement, AA spokesman U Khine Thukha questioned the impartiality of the EU’s stance on Arakanese affairs, saying it had ignored recent alleged rights violations by Myanmar Army soldiers and policemen in northern Rakhine.

U Khine Thukha said, “Well, if they say our operation against police could not be ‘justified’, then how does the EU justify the violence of Army and police against the Arakanese public? If they could guarantee it will never happen [again] and urge the police to [reject] the Army’s repressive mechanism in Rakhine, we will stop targeting police.”

He recalled the brutal killing by police of seven protestors in Mrauk-U in January 2018 and criticized the EU for failing to express its sympathies upon the death of the Arakanese or condemn the police and government. He said police have been actively carrying out arbitrary arrests of villagers.

Photos reportedly obtained from prisoners of war detained by the Arakan Army. The AA says the images are proof of police and fire brigade officers’ involvement in Myanmar military operations. / AA website

U Khine Thukha explained that they are fighting against the “oppressors”. The Arakanese opted to take a rebel path to fight the military as the political problems of Rakhine had been sidelined for generations. He urged the EU not to just look at the attack on the police station, but to look at the overall issue of Rakhine including how Arakanese are being repressed by the police and Army.

“The EU should take into consideration all these facts rather than just focusing on the attack on the police station. I would like to say their conclusion [regarding] us is absolutely narrow-minded and biased.”

U Khine Thukha said that villager Maung Hla Win, 23, from Mrauk-U died while under Army interrogation on Thursday. He explained that a local charity group was transporting Maung Hla Win from a village to Mrauk-U Hospital as the patient was seriously ill with malaria when he was unexpectedly held by the Army for hours. Later the police handed over his body to the hospital without any explanation. Plus, six charity workers had still not been set free by police as of Friday evening and their family members had no idea about where they were being detained.

“That patient died in the military compound, not in the hospital. This is an inhumane act. I haven’t seen an EU statement on such cruelty. They are always silent about the wrongdoings of the government but [comment] without hesitation on the AA, so it is obvious that the EU itself is biased.”

An AA spokesman said the group will keep looking at the response of the EU on wrongdoings of the military in Rakhine. He had heard that the EU urged the government to seek peace but argued the military acts inconsistently. Although the military expresses a desire for peace talks, it launches serious offensives with excessive force in northern Rakhine.

He pointed out that the EU should have urged the Army and government to halt offensives in northern Rakhine instead of urging the AA to seek a truce. Even on Wednesday and Thursday, the Army used airstrikes and bombed the mountain the whole night where the AA rebels are believed to be based.

U Khine Thukha said “That operation I would say was the heaviest attack in this region since the Second World War. They should urge the Army to ease attacks in Rakhine instead of saying it to us. Otherwise, their stance could be defined as complicity with the Army.”