NAYPYITAW—Speaking to the media in Russia last week, Myanmar Commander-in-Chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing called for international cooperation in fighting terrorism and claimed that terrorist groups exist because of the strong forces that support them.
The senior general was in Russia to attend the 75th anniversary of the country’s Victory Day, which commemorates the surrender of Nazi Germany in 1945 at the end of World War II.
When asked by Russian state-run ZVEZDA News Agency about terrorism in Myanmar, the military chief said, “A country may be able to suppress terrorist organizations on its soil. But in cases when there are strong forces behind that terrorist organization, the country alone may not be able to handle it.”
The senior general stressed the need for cooperation between partners and countries that oppose terrorism, saying that it is otherwise difficult to combat terrorist organizations.
By terrorist organizations, the military chief was referring to the Arakan Army (AA) and the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), Myanmar military spokesman Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun later clarified.
When asked by ZVEZDA about the Myanmar military’s plan to fight ARSA, the military chief said, “We have to cut off factors that contribute to their existence. We have to make sure they can’t get recruits, weapons, funds or popular support by exposing their true colors. It requires wide-ranging approaches.”
The Myanmar military has excluded Rakhine State, where the AA and ARSA are active, from unilateral countrywide ceasefires, which it has declared on multiple occasions to facilitate peace talks with ethnic armed organizations.
The Myanmar government has labeled both groups as terrorist organizations.
Since launching a series of attacks on security outposts in northern Rakhine on Aug. 25, 2017, in which the group killed 12 security personnel, ARSA has only been able to carry out sneak attacks on security personnel on the Myanmar-Bangladeshi border.
Meanwhile, the AA has been engaged in large-scale war with the Myanmar military since last year in northern Rakhine, with the conflict zone now expanding into southern Rakhine.
Ex-military officer and political researcher Dr. Aung Myo pointed out that even militarily strong countries like the US have not able to curb insurgency, though the US has fought for around two decades in Afghanistan and Iran. It is impossible to fully defeat some groups in wars that result from political causes, he said.
“[The AA rose up against the government] not because of Sen-Gen Min Aung Hlaing. There are several factors, like the current government’s inability to fulfill the political wishes of the Rakhine people,” he said. “[Prominent Rakhine politician] Dr. Aye Maung was imprisoned, in violation of freedom of expression, and Rakhine people are not happy about the sharing of natural resources. This is why the AA won some support from the Rakhine people.”
Rakhine affairs analyst U Maung Maung Soe told The Irrawaddy that, for an ethnic armed group, the support of people from their ethnic group is more important than the weaponry they own. He added that it is difficult for the Myanmar military to defeat the AA because its anti-AA operations are not winning the support of local people in Rakhine.
In an interview with The Irrawaddy in January 2019, AA chief Major General Tun Myat Naing said the armed group is able to operate in Rakhine State because it has won the support of the public. He said the armed group would rather keep its current size a secret, but that this public support is the reason the AA has grown over the years.
According to Rakhine observers, it is notable that the AA has not disrupted any Chinese development projects in Myanmar, but has always disrupted the Kaladan Multimodal Transit Transport Project across the Mizoram border.
“Most of the weapons currently used by the AA came from China. They were smuggled with Thai vessels and sent to the AA via Kolkata and Chittagong,” said Dr. Aung Myo.
Brig-Gen Zaw Min Tun has said that a foreign country is behind the AA, citing the modern technologies the AA has allegedly used in mine attacks on the military in Rakhine State.
The spokesman once told The Irrawaddy that the AA possesses modern equipment that can trigger landmines via mobile phones, walkie-talkies, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi.
During his recent visit to Russia, Sen-Gen Min Aung Hlaing held talks with Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh on how to promote ties between their countries’ armed forces, border security and counter-insurgency operations along the border.
Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.
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