YANGON—The commander-in-chief of the Arakan Army, (AA), Major-General Tun Myat Naing, said negotiations on bilateral ceasefire agreements will fail if the Myanmar military (or Tatmadaw) maintains its hardline attitude toward three of the four members of the Northern Alliance.
“Even if we could reach an agreement over the venue [for the meeting], there might still be problems about the meeting agenda, especially about the deployment of troops. They [the Tatmadaw] have spoken aggressively about troop deployments. And they have not expressed clearly their policies on our allies, the TNLA [Ta’ang National Liberation Army] and the MNDAA [Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army]. So, we are taking a wait-and-see attitude in response to their hardline attitude,” Maj-Gen. Tun Myat Naing told The Irrawaddy.
The Northern Alliance is a coalition of four ethnic armed groups: the AA, TNLA, MNDAA and Kachin Independence Army (KIA).
Formed by 26 Arakanese youths in April 2009 in Kachin State’s Laiza with the support of the KIA, the AA today is a 7,000-strong army. While the AA aims to establish a stronghold in its homeland, Rakhine State, the Tatmadaw has said that it considers the AA to be based in Laiza, and does not recognize it as having established a presence in Rakhine.
“We are already in Rakhine, and have been fighting many clashes with them. Their refusal to acknowledge our existence in Rakhine will only worsen the situation. They have said the same about troop deployments of the MNDAA and the TNLA,” Maj-Gen. Tun Myat Naing told The Irrawaddy.
“We want to see a move that will bring about some political improvement, not necessarily on the bilateral [ceasefire agreement] alone,” he added.
In 2015, the ethnic armed group started to infiltrate Chin State’s Paletwa Township on the Bangladesh-Myanmar border, in order to realize its dream of returning to Rakhine. The group has gradually expanded its areas of operation to Buthidaung, Rathedaung, Kyauktaw, Minbya, Ponnagyun and Mrauk-U in northern Rakhine State.
Brigadier-General Zaw Min Tun of the Tatmadaw True News Information Team said, “We have clarified our stance on the AA. We have nothing more to say. And we will reveal our policies on other groups when we hold talks with them. Our stance on the AA will not change. Rakhine State was stable in the past; the conflict will only grow bigger given the current situation. So, we will not change our mind.”
The government’s National Reconciliation and Peace Center (NRPC) and the Northern Alliance last met on April 30. While the meeting did not produce any progress toward signing bilateral ceasefire agreements, Brig-Gen. Zaw Min Tun said the government and the Tatmadaw have discussed recommendations submitted by the Northern Alliance at the April 30 meeting and reached a consensus on their recommendations. He declined to provide details.
“We have articulated our stance. Whether the bilateral [ceasefire agreement] will be successful or not will depend on them [the Northern Alliance],” he added.
The Northern Alliance also called for establishing a ceasefire monitoring mechanism as well as a military code of conduct in signing bilateral ceasefire agreements.
According to political and ethnic affairs analyst U Maung Maung Soe, “If military deployments are to be discussed as part of the bilateral [ceasefire agreements], [the Tatmadaw] will have to talk not only with the AA, but also with the TNLA and the MNDAA. Though the [Tatmadaw] has not signed a bilateral [ceasefire agreement] with the KIA, a truce was signed [between the KIA and the Tatmadaw] in 1994, and troop deployments were discussed then. So there is no problem.”
Intense debates are likely between the Tatmadaw and the groups, as they have never discussed troop deployments before, U Maung Maung Soe said.
“There will be progress on the political front only when the bilateral ceasefire agreement is signed. But the Tatmadaw is very seriously concerned, and it acts by blocking the political dialogue. This hinders a political breakthrough,” he said.
At the April 30 meeting, the NRPC and the Northern Alliance agreed to meet again on May 24-25, but that meeting has been indefinitely postponed.
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