Myanmar Military Denies Using Drones to Attack Arakan Army Troops

By Thiha Lwin 24 January 2020

NAYPYITAW—The Myanmar military has denied the Arakan Army (AA)’s claim that it is using combat drones to attack the ethnic armed group in Rakhine and Chin states, saying it only uses the pilotless aircraft to provide security for military outposts.

“Battalions and military units have procured drones by themselves. They use them to take photos as a security measure for their outposts and in areas where their soldiers make their movements,” Myanmar military (or Tatmadaw) spokesperson Brigadier-General Zaw Min Tun said in response to The Irrawaddy’s question at a press conference in Naypyitaw on Thursday.

In statements earlier this month, the AA said the Myanmar military had recently starting using drones in addition to fighter aircraft to bomb AA troops in Buthidaung and Rathedaung townships in Rakhine State and Paletwa Township in Chin State. In March last year, drones were among the weapons seized by the AA when it detained a group of soldiers after a battle in Paletwa.

Although the AA’s claims of drone use by the military could not be independently verified, the Tatmadaw used fighter jets against AA troops in August in remote areas of Rakhine State’s Minbya Township, near the boundary of Mrauk-U Township in an area that Tatmadaw ground forces could not access by road. In November, the AA claimed that aerial bombing by the Tatmadaw had killed some of the hostages the armed group had abducted from the Shwe Nadi ferry the previous month.

AA spokesperson Khaing Thukha could not be reached for comment on Friday.

When asked by The Irrawaddy if the Myanmar military has combat drones as the AA claims, Brig-Gen Zaw Min Tun said sarcastically, “We didn’t realize we’re so advanced. It seems we’ve underestimated ourselves.”

He said the drones currently in use by the Myanmar military are the ordinary type that can be easily bought in a market, and are only used to take pictures and videos.

On Tuesday, one of the country’s biggest armed groups, the Karen National Union (KNU), which signed a truce with the Myanmar government in 2015, said the Myanmar military had been using drones to conduct aerial reconnaissance on its brigades and headquarters every one or two weeks since 2018, adding that the practice undermined the trust between the two sides.

In a statement, the KNU condemned the Myanmar military’s aerial reconnaissance, calling it a breach of the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement.

Again, Brig-Gen. Zaw Min Tun denied the claim, saying, “We have ground information about the locations of all the outposts of the KNU and every other group in Myanmar. So, we don’t need to bother to use drones to take pictures.”

U Thein Tun Oo of the Thayninga Institute for Strategic Studies, a think-tank formed by ex-military officers, said the Myanmar military lacks the technology needed to deploy combat drones.

“It is very likely that the Tatmadaw, as it tries to build a standard army, uses drones for reconnaissance. But to attack with drones is quite complicated technologically. It can’t be drones. It might be another form of aerial attack,” U Thein Tun Oo said.

Pa-O National Liberation Organization patron Colonel Khun Okkar also claimed the Myanmar military is using drones for both purposes—reconnaissance and attack.

“The Myanmar military is using them on a trial basis. From what I’ve learned, it is using both types. Unfortunately, the drone training ground is in the AA’s area. I have learned that the military has started using combat drones against the AA,” Khun Okkar said.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko

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