‘Myanmar Army Will Be Responsible if We Are Forced to Attack’: Ethnic Alliance

By Lawi Weng 30 October 2019

The Myanmar army will bear sole responsibility for the consequences if its continued military operations against the Brotherhood Alliance of ethnic armed organizations force the latter to launch a counterattack, the ethnic bloc said in a statement on Tuesday.

The Brotherhood Alliance comprising the Arakan Army (AA), Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army issued a statement on Oct. 29 asking the Myanmar army to end its military offensives in the EAOs’ areas, and to hold genuine peace talks in order to build trust.

If the Myanmar army does not halt its ongoing military offensives against the three groups, the alliance said, “We reiterate the sentiment of our alliance that the Myanmar military will be solely responsible for the outcome of [its] continuing military offensive.”

The Myanmar military is using naval, helicopter and ground forces to attack the AA and the TNLA, with clashes breaking out almost every day in Rakhine State, according to the statement.

“Their action is based on racial hatred, and they have continued to use artillery shelling and machine guns day and night, torching homes, schools and religious buildings, and arbitrarily arresting civilians daily and torturing them,” the statement reads.

Responding to the statement, Myanmar military spokesman Brigadier-General Zaw Min Tun told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday that, “We have never fired artillery shells into their territory or used helicopters to attack them. They announced a ceasefire, but they even attacked us in the town in Hseni. We would ask them whether the town of Hseni is inside their control area? In another case, in Kutkai, when we heard they came to collect taxes, our troops went to attack them. In another case at the pagoda in Namhsam, they had set up a base at the pagoda. Our troops attacked them, not civilians. They came to set up a base in our control area; it was not their control area.”

The Brotherhood Alliance earlier announced a unilateral ceasefire through the end of the year. In its statement, however, it accused the Myanmar army of taking advantage of the situation and continuing to intensify its serious offensive in ethnic Arakanese, Ta’ang and Kokang regions.

“We are compelled to make defensive counterattacks, individually or collectively. Such moves by the Myanmar military unavoidably harm the peace process, and upset the trust so far gained by all the parties concerned,” the statement reads.

Brigadier-General Tar Phone Kyaw of the TNLA said fighting had worsened in his group’s areas and those of the AA.

“We will lose trust as more fighting has broken out in our area. Therefore, we issued the statement in order to warn them and to try to reduce the fighting,” he said.

“We will have successful negotiations if they can reduce the fighting, we hope. But, if they continue to attack us, future peace negotiations will be threatened,” he added.

On the ground, the Myanmar army does whatever it wants, in stark contrast to what it says at the negotiating table with the National Reconciliation and Peace Center (NRPC), Brig-Gen Tar Phone Kyaw said. He said the poor relations between the Myanmar military (or Tatmadaw) and the Myanmar government were partly to blame.

Since peace talks in Shan State’s Kengtung in September, the TNLA has been forced to withdraw from five military bases in Kutkai Township, according to Brig-Gen Tar Phone Kyaw, due to attacks by the Tatmadaw.

He said it was too early to say how the alliance would respond if the Tatmadaw ignored the warning and continued to attack. He said the alliance would monitor the army’s actions first.

He warned civilians to stay in a safe location if fighting resumed near them. “If people are traveling, we ask them to listen to the news to see whether there is fighting in the area first,” he said.

The NRPC and the Northern Alliance—which comprises the Brotherhood Alliance plus the Kachin Independence Army—met twice in Kengtung for peace negotiations ultimately aimed at the signing of bilateral peace agreements. At the last round of peace talks in Kengtung in September, the two sides agreed to meet again in October. However, the NRPC delayed the talks, saying its officials were busy.