NAYPYITAW—The Myanmar Army will not allow the Free Burma Rangers (FBR) to enter the country, military spokesperson Brigadier-General Zaw Min Tun said. His comments came in response to the group’s announcement that it plans to help displaced persons in Rakhine State, where the Myanmar military and the Arakan Army (AA) are fighting.
Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported that the FBR, a group founded by a former U.S. Army special forces officer, plans to assist displaced persons in Rakhine State. The group describes itself as a humanitarian assistance organization but the Myanmar military (or Tatmadaw) accuses it of providing military training to ethnic armed groups.
Brig-Gen. Zaw Min Tun said the FBR previously entered Karen State on the pretext of providing assistance to refugees, but in reality provided military training to the Karen National Union (KNU).
“We have seen posts on Arakanese [social media] pages that call for support for [the FBR]. It is risky. Their arrival would not improve the situation. It would only worsen it. And the government would not allow it. Also, the group is not an official INGO,” he said, meaning an international non-governmental organization.
David Eubank, the founder of the FBR, told RFA on June 7 that his group would help those affected by the fighting, and that his Rakhine relief team had already started working.
“Our role is to help the refugees. We will help them, wherever they are from and whoever they are,” he said.
Based in Karen State, the FBR was founded 25 years ago. It says its aim is to provide assistance, especially medical assistance, to sick and injured internally displaced people, and claims that it has to date trained over 300 teams with around 70 currently operating.
“It was formed by Vietnam War veterans. They are in fact militants. They provide military training to the KNU. According to information we have received, they ask [trainees] to attack [military] outposts as a way of testing their training. They provide funds and training. As they do so, the conflicts escalate,” Brig-Gen. Zaw Min Tun said.
Lawmaker U Pe Than of the Arakan National Party (ANP) said that if it wants to provide assistance in Rakhine State, the FBR should cooperate with UN agencies that are already offering assistance there. He added that it was unclear who it aims to help: Arakanese or Rohingya.
“We can’t accept any assistance that will further fuel the flames of war in Rakhine. As a group that is infamous for providing military assistance, they should cooperate with other organizations if they are honest. If things develop in a way that arouses concern, we will monitor it not only as a party, but also as lawmakers,” said U Pe Than, whose party holds a majority in the Rakhine State Parliament.
Brig-Gen. Zaw Min Tun said the FBR cannot be trusted, despite having fought against ISIS in the Middle East.
Eubank told RFA the Tatmadaw holds the real power in Myanmar despite the election of State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD. “Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has not been able to make reforms that Myanmar people need,” he said.
According to humanitarian organizations, 66 camps currently house over 34,000 internally displaced persons in Maungdaw, Buthidaung, Rathedaung, Ponnagyun, Kyauktaw, Mrauk-U and Minbya townships in Rakhine State.
Clashes have been ongoing between the Tatmadaw and the Arakan Army (AA) since Nov. 30, 2018. Last week, President’s Office spokesperson U Zaw Htay told the media the government is working to convince the AA to join the peace process.
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