NAYPYITAW — The Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) has rallied Rohingya in Buthidaung and Maungdaw townships to establish a “Rohingya-only area” in Maungdaw District, northern Rakhine State, claimed Myanmar Army spokesperson Maj-Gen Aung Ye Win.
“Their [ARSA] main objective is to rally through fear, build strongholds, and declare the whole region as their liberated area,” Maj-Gen Aung Ye Win said at a Myanmar Army press briefing in Naypyitaw on Tuesday for military attaches of foreign countries and the media on attacks in northern Rakhine State.
“They managed to rally some 50 percent of Bengalis in Buthidaung and Maungdaw. They mobilized in different places for each household to send a person to participate in the attacks,” he added, referring to the stateless Rohingya population, which the Myanmar government and many in the country refer to as Bengali to infer that they are interlopers from Bangladesh.
According to the briefing, ARSA, which claimed responsibility for attacks last week on 30 police outposts and an army base in Rakhine State, sent a letter to the government on March 29 listing 20 demands. Recently declared a terrorist organization by the government, ARSA had been plotting jihad for some time, according to military leaders.
On Tuesday, home affairs minister Lt-Gen Kyaw Swe claimed that the recent attacks were a move on the part of ARSA to establish an “Islamic State” in Rakhine.
“Bengalis want their own territory. So, they drove Arakanese people out of the country and this resulted in conflict. They made political and military movements to demand their own territory,” said Maj-Gen Aung Ye Win, who is also the vice-chairman of the Myanmar Army True News Information Team.
Muslims account for 34 percent of the total population in Rakhine State, and there are 1,272 mosques in Buthidaung and Maungdaw, and no restriction of religion, he said.
He claimed that the attacks were not religiously motivated, but due to the Rohingya being unwilling to undergo the citizenship verification process and wanting to gain territorial control.
The treatment of the region’s 1.1 million stateless Rohingya has been one of State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s biggest challenges. For years, they have been denied citizenship, endured apartheid-like conditions and faced severe travel restrictions.
Tensions had been running high recently between the ethnic Arakanese and Rohingya Muslim populations, who remained largely separated since inter-communal violence in 2012 and 2013 displaced around 140,000 people, the vast majority of them Rohingya.
The worst violence that the area has seen in years has sent thousands to flee the area once again.
Deputy Chief of Military Affairs Security Maj-Gen Than Htut Thein said Parliament had rejected Myanmar Army proposals calling for necessary responses. The administration in Maungdaw had collapsed and hatred between the two communities had reached its peak, he added.
He said the Myanmar Army would ensure that a National Defense and Security Council (NDSC) meeting was summoned if necessary, adding that the army was striving for stability but that continued attacks could threaten national security.
Maj-Gen Aung Ye Win said the Myanmar Army was fully cooperating with the government and had offered suggestions, but the decision to summon an NDSC meeting was ultimately in the hands of President U Htin Kyaw.
On Monday, the President’s Office sent a letter to the Office of the Commander-in-Chief, instructing the Myanmar Army to continue cooperating with the Myanmar Police Force in operations in Rakhine State.
Maj-Gen Than Htut Thein said the Myanmar Army had to join the operations as the situation was beyond the capacity of the police force.
The president, state counselor and Myanmar Army deputy commander-in-chief had discussions over the phone, in which they agreed to deploy additional military troops to the area and employ helicopters in the operations.
Additional reporting by Htun Htun. Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.