RANGOON – The Burma Army engaged in two ambush attacks against the Arakan Army (AA) during the country’s New Year water festival on April 16 in northern Arakan State, according to AA communications officer Khine Thukha.
The clashes reportedly occurred in Ponnagyun and Rathedaung townships. Khine Thukha claimed that at least 30 government soldiers were killed or injured in the fighting, but denied that AA had suffered any casualties.
The Irrawaddy made contact by phone with residents in Rathedaung Township on April 18, who said that the situation had calmed, but locals in nearby Kyauktaw Township reported the reinforcement of government troops in the area since the clashes.
Arakan State residents told The Irrawaddy that they sensed growing tension between ethnic Burmese and Arakanese communities due to what they describe as “hate speech” on social media, including inflammatory written posts and unverified photos depicting violent acts.
Burma’s Ministry of Information (MOI) stated on April 18 that government troops would try to remove ‘‘AA insurgencies’’ from Arakan State’s Kyauktaw Township; military officials also acknowledged in state media that the army had suffered casualties in recent armed clashes with the AA.
The AA commemorated its seventh anniversary on April 10 with the armed group’s commander-in-chief Tun Myat Naing stating hopes of restarting a political dialogue with Burma’s new National League for Democracy-led (NLD) government, which took power at the beginning of April.
Under the previous administration of President Thein Sein, the AA—along with ethnic Palaung (Ta’ang), Wa and Kokang armies—was excluded from signing Burma’s so-called nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA) in October 2015. Eight armed organizations—out of more than 20—inked the accord, but some larger groups, like the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), withheld their signatures.
Khine Thukha described the NCA as a “failed” agreement. “If the new government continues in the same way as Thein Sein, [the outcome] will be the same,” he said in reference to the previous administration’s approach to the peace process, which has yet to bring an end to armed conflict in Burma’s six decades of civil war.
He added that the AA would participate in talks with the government only if the other excluded groups were also invited.
Ponnagyun constituency’s Arakan National Party (ANP) lawmaker in the Lower House, Tun Maung, urged the NLD government to bring the AA into a political dialogue when they re-start the national peace process.
“I believe that the NLD will carry out that matter for national reconciliation,” he said.
Correction: The article originally stated that the MOI’s statement was issued on April 13. It has now been changed to reflect the correct date of the statement’s publication: April 18 at 9:15 pm.