Myanmar Rebel Coalition Calls for Military to Extend Ceasefire to Rakhine

By Lawi Weng 11 May 2020

Members of three ethnic armed groups known as the Brotherhood Alliance have asked the Myanmar army not to exclude Rakhine State from a unilateral ceasefire from May 10 to Aug. 31 as the country is trying to control the coronavirus pandemic.

The Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), Arakan Army (AA) and Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) issued a joint statement Sunday saying that the Myanmar army should not exclude Rakhine from its latest ceasefire, as it has in the past, as the military has ongoing offensives in Rakhine and in Chin State’s Paletwa Township, where many local people are suffering the impacts of the fighting. The Brotherhood Alliance extended its own ceasefire for one month on May 3 but fighting between the groups and the Myanmar military has continued.

The military, also known as the Tatmadaw, announced a unilateral ceasefire on Saturday that will last until Aug. 31 and cover the whole country except areas where terrorist organizations are based, according to a statement from the Ministry of Defense.

The Myanmar government declared the AA a terrorist group in late March. The group is involved in ongoing fighting with the Tatmadaw in western Myanmar.

“The Tatmadaw announced a unilateral ceasefire for all areas except areas recognized as the base of a terrorist organization, which refers to Rakhine and Paletwa in Chin,” said the military statement on Saturday.

Brigadier General Tar Phone Kyaw of the TNLA said the Tatmadaw should announce a nationwide ceasefire.

“If they announced a nationwide ceasefire, we could all work to prevent the spread of COVID-19 effectively. We could even successfully work for peace,” he told The Irrawaddy on Monday.

Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun, spokesperson for the Myanmar army, said the military is unwilling to negotiate with the AA. “Unless the AA is removed from the list of terrorist organizations, we cannot negotiate with them. Therefore, we have to exclude them.”

The military’s announcement on Saturday said the ceasefire is intended to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus in the country, in line with UN Secretary General António Guterres’ call for a worldwide ceasefire to prevent and control the pandemic.

Clashes between the Myanmar military and the AA have intensified steadily since the Rakhine rebels attacked a group of police bases in January 2019, and have continued to worsen this month. The Myanmar military has used naval, air and ground forces in the conflict, while the AA relies on guerrilla tactics and has resorted to abducting civilians, including a ruling party lawmaker and government officials. The conflict has resulted in a high number of civilian causalities. The UN and rights groups have accused the Myanmar army of committing human right abuses in the conflict area. More than 160,000 people have been internally displaced by the conflict in Rakhine.

U Maung Maung Soe, an ethnic affairs analyst, said the Myanmar army will be able to cooperate with other ethnic armed groups such as the Karen National Union and the Restoration Council of Shan State to prevent the spread of COVID-19 under the unilateral ceasefire. However, as the army has excluded Rakhine from the ceasefire, he said the fighting in that area will continue as before.

“I do not see any change because of their ceasefire announcement. It will also be difficult to have peace negotiations with members of the Northern Alliance,” U Maung Maung Soe said, referring to a coalition that includes the Brotherhood Alliance as well as the Kachin Independence Army (KIA).

According to the TNLA, the Myanmar army will use the ceasefire to claim to the world that they are working to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, while at the same time they will try to eliminate the AA.

“If they do not stop fighting with the AA, a joint military offensive from our Brotherhood Alliance will come again soon,” Brig-Gen Tar Phone Kyaw said.

The joint statement from Brotherhood Alliance denied the Myanmar army’s claim that the ceasefire is intended to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, instead saying the Tatmadaw’s announcement is “just for show to the international community, including the International Court of Justice, and would be impossible for it to stop the fighting in the country.”

Brig-Gen Tar Phone Kyaw added that the military is taking advantage of ethnic armed groups’ unilateral ceasefires, like the one from the TNLA, saying that the military is sending its soldiers to travel from one village to another. “We cannot attack them as we announced a unilateral ceasefire,” he said, but added that if the military continues to prepare offensives, fighting could break out at any time.

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