YANGON — The latest attacks in northern Rakhine State show that the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) is trying to establish an “Islamic State” in Maungdaw and Buthidaung townships, said home affairs minister Lt-Gen Kyaw Swe at a conference on Tuesday.
Lt-Gen Kyaw Swe and the government’s national security adviser U Thaung Tun briefed diplomats and UN agencies on the current situation in Rakhine at the National Reconciliation and Peace Center in Yangon.
U Thaung Tun opened the briefing by dubbing the August 25 attacks on 30 police stations and an army base as “Myanmar’s Black Friday.”
He said the ARSA attacks have “serious implications not only for the country but the region and beyond.”
Police Brig-Gen Win Tun told the briefing that ARSA have territorial ambitions.
“They plan to take over the area as a Bengali-only land,” he said, using a term for Rohingya Muslims that implies they are interlopers from Bangladesh.
Brig-Gen Win Tun said militants have killed 63 people including Arakanese, government workers, security force members, and alleged government informers since ARSA attacked three border posts last October. The cases of 37 missing people are linked to the group, he added.
Lt-Gen Kyaw Swe also supported the comments, saying ARSA plotted to take Maungdaw and Buthidaung townships.
The “terrorists are trying to dismantle the local administrative structure,” he said, adding that the military has been requested to help police in the region.
He emphasized that the security forces are “taking care to carry out their duties in keeping with their code of conduct and the law.”
“Terrorists caused conflict and frightened locals in to running away,” Brig-Gen Win Tun said. The militants were taking four steps to gain land, he added: scaring locals from the area, killing government informers, the October attacks and the latest attacks.
However, ARSA has stated in a series of statements and videos that it is committed to securing citizenship and basic civil rights within Myanmar for the Rohingya and has maintained that the group does not target civilians.
Brig-Gen Win Tun pinned the killing of six ethnic Mro farmers in southern Maungdaw on the group, saying they were slaughtered to scare locals away from the area.
“In the area of Buthidaung and Maungdaw, whenever the opportunity arrives they attack security forces,” he said.
Militants had made land mines from construction materials such as ammonia nitrate fertilizer and metal pipes, which were taken from international humanitarian organizations, he added, without specifying any aid groups or expanding on how the militants were able to retrieve the materials.
The government has also implicated international aid groups with the militants by repeatedly posting pictures of World Food Programme (WFP) energy biscuits allegedly found at a militant camp. It is probing whether non-governmental organization staff had been involved in an alleged siege by militants of a village in Rakhine.
The US and British embassies have condemned the attacks, stressing that innocent civilians should now be protected and supported. Figures in Myanmar’s Muslim community have called for the government to take action against the perpetrators.
ARSA and the military have both accused each other of burning locals’ homes in the aftermath of the attacks. Satellite data shows widespread fires burning in at least 10 areas of northern Rakhine, according to a Human Rights Watch statement on Tuesday.
Thousands of Buddhists and Hindus have taken shelter in temporary camps protected by security forces in the region. Also in the thousands, Muslims have fled to the Bangladesh border. The UNHCR has urged Bangladesh to accept displaced people fleeing the violence, as reports have surfaced of people being turned away.