YANGON—Amid fierce battling in northern Rakhine State, the Office of the Commander-in-Chief has replaced Chief of Western Command Major-General Soe Tint Naing with Major-General Phone Myat, of the Northwest Command, according to a military spokesperson.
Brigadier General U Zaw Min Tun told reporters in Naypyidaw on Monday that the replacement was a “necessity of military operations” in Rakhine State, and just an exchange of the two chiefs of the Western and Northwestern commands. The appointment of Maj-Gen. Phone Myat, he added, was based on the experiences of where each had served in the past.
The military had previously announced a four-month truce for five military commands across the country, excluding Rakhine, from January to April. When the truce expired in April, they extended it for another two months for all military operations outside of Rakhine.
Arakan Army (AA) spokesperson U Khine Thukha said the recent military transfer is a gesture of continued armed violence in northern Rakhine, adding that the military has always transferred commanders in the past whenever there was a failure to show high operational performance.
According to U Khine Thukha, outgoing Maj-Gen. Soe Tint Naing had been in Rakhine since late 2018, when Western Command Major-General Maung Maung Soe was dismissed by the commander-in-chief’s office for his role in clearance operations against the Rohingya in 2017.
U Khine Thukha said the Myanmar military was totally sustained significant losses against AA forces in northern Rakhine and remote parts of neighboring Chin State’s Paletwa Township in May, although it had recently deployed newly-reinforced Light Infantry Divisions (LIDs) No. 11, 44 and 77 to Rakhine State.
U Khine Thukha said he had heard that in February 2019, Maj-Gen. Phone Myat had successfully taken control of the headquarters of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Khaplang (NSCN-K), in the Naga Self-Administered Zone of Sagaing Region, without a single gunshot fired.
“It seems they [the Myanmar military] want to test him for the Rakhine command,” U Khine Thukha said.
Ethnic armed affairs analyst U Maung Maung Soe said the military has occasionally done such re-positioning of commanders before, and there remains too much uncertainty to conclude whether or not fighting will escalate on the ground, as the operation is directly handled by the Office of the Commander-in-Chief.
According to the AA, the military has dispatched to northern Rakhine LIDs No. 77, 55, 44, 22 and 11, in addition to reinforcing some battalions under the control of LIDs No. 33, 66 and 99 there. These LIDs are jointly conducting the operations, with three regional commands in Rakhine. Each military division is comprised of 10 battalions.
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