NAYPYITAW — The Myanmar government approved the military’s request to designate the entire Maungdaw District in northern Rakhine State as an operational area, President’s Office spokesperson U Zaw Htay confirmed to The Irrawaddy on Monday.
“The Commander-in-Chief’s Office asked to designate it [Maungdaw District] as an operational area, and the President’s Office has given approval,” U Zaw Htay said.
According to police major Ko Ko Soe of the border guard police headquarters in Kyee Kan Pyin in Maungdaw, five areas in northern Rakhine—Buthidaung, Maungdaw, Rathedaung townships, and Taungpyoletwe and Myinlut sub-townships—have been designated as operational areas as of August 25.
“The whole of Maungdaw is designated as an operational area. So, this is approval that decisive actions can be taken against terrorist organizations in clearance operations,” police major Ko Ko Soe said.
Myanmar Army commander-in-chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing reportedly asked for the “operational area” designation in order to ensure the “effectiveness” of clearance operations.
The army chief attended a ceremony on Friday to accept cash donations for security personnel and government officials who have died since attacks by militants began in the region on Aug. 25 in what he described as a “well-prepared plot.”
At the ceremony, Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing referenced events from 1942 during World War II, in which he said that “Bengalis”—a term used by many in Myanmar to refer to the Muslim Rohingya population—who were more closely aligned with the Allied forces, allegedly attacked ethnic Arakanese communities in Rakhine State, who frequently fought alongside Japanese forces.
“We will never let such an occurrence happen again,” the army chief said, describing it as “unacceptable.”
“The Tatmadaw had to get involved as the strength of police forces alone could not defend [the area]. It was also officially permitted by the government. Without the Tatmadaw’s involvement, the situation could worsen. The military will do its best to perform its national defense duties,” Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing said.
The senior general added that the Tatmadaw would “fully safeguard the sovereignty of Myanmar.”
“In addition to the security forces, all the government institutions and the entire people must defend the country with strong patriotism,” Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing said.
He speculated that the original attacks by militants from the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) were launched as retaliation against the citizenship verification process for the 1982 Citizenship Law. The law makes distinctions between three types of citizenship—full, associate, and naturalized—and has been criticized for defining citizenship along ethnic lines.
The Rohingya population—numbering more than 1 million—are largely stateless, and not classified as one of Myanmar’s official 135 “national races,” a concept put forward under military rule in the 1990s.
Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing cited casualties of security forces as numbering 13—11 policemen and two soldiers—as well as one immigration officer, a member of health staff, and 14 ethnic Arakanese civilians. He also described infrastructure that had been destroyed, including eight bridges and more than 2,700 homes.
Reuters reported on Monday that 87,000 Rohingya Muslims had been displaced to Bangladesh since clearance operations began in late August, and at least 400 killed. The Myanmar government has said that nearly 12,000 Arakanese have been displaced in Rakhine State as well.
In a statement released on Aug. 31, the Myanmar Army said that there had been around 90 clashes between security forces and the ARSA from August 25-30, in which 370 suspected militants had been killed.