Int’l Crisis Group Urges China to Push for Army Ceasefire in Rakhine

By Moe Myint 25 January 2019

YANGON—In its latest report issued on Thursday, the International Crisis Group (ICG) urged China to put pressure on the Myanmar Army to extend its unilateral ceasefire to Rakhine State in order to address ongoing armed clashes there between government troops and the Arakan Army (AA).

The report, entitled “A New Dimension of Violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine State”, contains five sections detailing the insurgency waged by the AA, arbitrary arrests of prominent Rakhine politicians, the indiscriminate killings of protesters in Mrauk-U last year and the political grievances between Arakanese political parties and the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD), as well as encouraging both sides to restrain from further offensives in the region.

Regarding the ICG’s advice, Yangon-based ethnic affairs analyst U Maung Maung Soe said China has been playing a major role in facilitating the peace dialogue for the Northern Alliance group for several years, adding that a Chinese envoy even recently disused the ongoing violence in Rakhine with AA leaders in Kachin State’s Laiza, where the Kachin Independence Army and the AA headquarters are located.

But any encouragement to the military to extend the ceasefire to cover Rakhine State should firstly involve negotiations between the actors, U Maung Maung Soe said.

“Without having any negotiations between them, it’s really tough to discuss possibilities,” he said.

As part of the solution, the ICG suggested the Myanmar government initiate dialogue with ethnic Rakhine representatives over key political, economic and social issues. It also recommended the authorities consider releasing Aye Maung and other ethnic Rakhine political prisoners.

The report mentioned that political dialogue between the Union government and Arakanese stakeholders should cover the repatriation process for Rohingya refugees who have been sheltering for more than one year in Bangladeshi camps, the rebuilding of Rohingya communities, economic development and power sharing between the central and state governments.

It also said the NLD government’s labeling of the AA as “terrorists” had only “exacerbated the tensions” between the Arakanese and Burman political actors at both the state and national levels.

The government convened a rare high-level meeting of senior military and civilian officials in Naypyitaw on Jan. 7 in response to the AA’s coordinated attacks on four border outposts in northern Rakhine on Jan. 4, which killed 13 policemen and injured more than a dozen.

The day after the meeting, Myanmar President’s Office spokesman U Zaw Htay held a press briefing in which he used harsh rhetoric against ethnic Arakanese, and told reporters that the president had given the military a green light to “crush the terrorists”. His comments are seen as having increased support for the AA among the Arakanese public.

The Irrawaddy phoned U Zaw Htay on Friday evening to get his comments on the ICG’s criticism of the government, but he declined to answer questions over the phone. Brigadier-General Zaw Min Tun from the Office of the Commander-in-Chief did not answer phone calls on Friday.

AA chief Tun Myat Naing previously told The Irrawaddy that the group felt it was necessary to raid the four Border Guard Police outposts in northern Rakhine, as the police were helping the military implement its “four cuts” strategy, which includes cutting off food, information and travel in the conflict zone, as well as conducting arbitrary arrests of AA supporters and Arakanese youth activists.

The ICG report says, “The 4 January attacks and government response have changed the dynamic of armed conflict in Rakhine State by activating previously latent support for the AA and bringing such support more into the open.”

In an apparent attempt to discredit the AA among ethnic Rakhine, U Zaw Htay made inflammatory remarks accusing the group of having ties with the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, and of operating two bases inside Bangladesh. The ICG predicted the Tatmadaw (Myanmar’s military) may instead focus its attention on civilians, seeking to undermine support for the AA by making large-scale arrests.

Despite the ICG’s wide range of suggestions on how to find a peaceful solution in Rakhine, armed conflict is seen as likely to emerge in other contested areas across Myanmar in the near future. On Friday, the Office of the Commander-in-Chief issued warning messages to all ethnic armed groups, including both signatories and non-signatories to the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement, to cease all military movements by Feb. 12.