YANGON — The Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, a Muslim militant group behind a series of attacks on government security outposts in northern Rakhine State in August, claimed responsibility for an ambush that injured six government troops last week in the restive area.
In the latest attack since a unilateral ceasefire in October, a civilian vehicle carrying six soldiers and an army officer were blasted by what was thought to be a remote-controlled landmine in northern Maungdaw Township on Friday morning.
The explosion was reportedly followed by an ambush carried out by gunmen apparently positioned on a nearby hill. The attack injured six soldiers and a civilian driver.
On Sunday, ARSA released a statement on Twitter, saying it was behind the attack.
“The Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) hereby declares that we carried out an ambush against the Burmese terrorist army in Turaing Village, San Kar Pin Yin Village Tract, Northern Maungdaw Township, Arakan State at around 10:00 AM on 05 January 2018,” said the statement.
After the attacks in August, the Myanmar government denounced the militant group as a terrorist organization. The government army then launched clearance operations in the area, leading to the exodus of more than 650,000 Rohingya Muslims to nearby Bangladesh.
Internationally, the army was accused of ethnic cleansing and arbitrary killings, rape and arson. Myanmar Military Chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing denied these allegations.
In the Sunday tweet, ARSA said “the Burmese terrorist government and the Burmese terrorist army have never stopped committing acts of Terrorism, War Crimes, Genocide and Crimes against Humanity against innocent Rohingya Indigenous native ethnic community of Arakan State.”
The Rohingya are not listed in Myanmar’s 135 official ethnic groups, and the majority of the country believes they are ‘Bengali,’ illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
Calling the clearance operations “state-sponsored terrorism,” ARSA said it is left with no choice but to fight back to defend the Rohingya.
“Last but not least, it is extremely pertinent to note that Rohingya people must be consulted in all decision-making that affects their humanitarian needs and political future.”
U Maung Maung Soe, a Yangon-based political analyst, told The Irrawaddy that ARSA seemed to derail the repatriation process between Myanmar and Bangladesh that was scheduled for later this month.
“It’s likely that the attack may pose an intimidation for those who want to come back,” he said.
ARSA previously said that it was open to a ceasefire. This was dismissed by both the government and the army.
Government spokesperson Zaw Htay previously stated: “We have no policy to negotiate with terrorists” while defense minister Lt-Gen Sein Win said, “No government negotiates with terrorist groups. We dismiss them [ARSA].”
U Zaw Htay told The Irrawaddy on Monday that the government has found out that the attack was aimed to jeopardize the repatriation process, and terrorists will be responded to as they are.
“We have ordered that they be responded to in line with the law. If they launch further attacks, they will face what they deserve,” he said.
He also urged the international community to see ARSA as a terrorist organization and to neither support it politically nor financially.
“The government is trying to solve the problem out there. If you support ARSA, our effort there will be hindered,” he said.