Stop ‘War Crimes’ in Rakhine or We’ll Join the Fight There, TNLA Tells Tatmadaw

By Lawi Weng 19 March 2019

The Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) has called on the Myanmar military to end its operations against the Arakan Army in Rakhine State, accusing government forces of targeting Arakanese civilians in the region and warning that this could prompt other ethnic armies to enter the fight on the AA’s side.

The Myanmar Army (or Tatmadaw) has been engaged in fierce fighting with the AA in Rakhine State in recent months. The AA and the TNLA are both members of the Northern Alliance of ethnic armed groups.

The TNLA warned the Tatmadaw that if it did not end its military operations in the area, the Northern Alliance groups would fight alongside the AA. This would be a bad outcome for the country, Brigadier-General Tar Phone Kyaw of the TNLA told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday.

“We want to ask the Myanmar Army and the government to stop committing war crimes in Arakan [Rakhine State]. We also want to tell them to stop shooting civilians,” he said.

The government’s National Reconciliation and Peace Center (NRPC) has invited members of the Federal Political Negotiation and Consultative Committee—a group of seven ethnic organizations—to attend peace negotiations in Naypyitaw. Representatives of the four-member Northern Alliance, which comprises FPNCC members, will travel to the capital soon to meet with the NRPC first.

“It is a political conflict. We need to solve it through political dialogue. Therefore, we accepted their request to have a meeting in Naypyitaw. We will try this method first. We will see whether our first efforts are successful. If not, we will do what we need to do,” Brig-Gen. Tar Phone Kyaw said.

He said that as an ally of the AA, the TNLA could not stand by and watch the Myanmar Army killing and attacking people in Rakhine.

“The TNLA will do what we can to help the AA. But now is not the right time to say [exactly] what we will do,” he said.

The fighting in northern Rakhine State reached the town of Mrauk-U in recent days. According to local sources, the Myanmar Army wounded civilians including a boy in an attack on the town on Monday night. Fighting continued in Mrauk-U on Tuesday morning. The Tatmadaw reportedly used jet fighters to attack AA positions outside the town.

Three ethnic armed groups—the AA, TNLA and Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army—issued a joint statement on Tuesday accusing the Myanmar Army of targeting civilians and attacking historic pagodas.

“The Myanmar Army is conducting ongoing attacks in Mrauk-U. They used jet fighters and artillery, as well as rifles to target civilians and destroy historic heritage pagodas. Their actions are war crimes,” the statement reads.

The Myanmar Army launched a military offensive in Rakhine State over a month ago, prompting many reports of human right abuses in the region. The current wave of fighting broke out in Buthidaung and Maungdaw townships on Jan. 4, when the AA attacked four police bases and killed 13 security officials.

Since then, fighting between the Myanmar Army and the AA has escalated and spread to other townships in the region including Mrauk-U, Rathedaung, Ponnagyun and Kyauktaw. Over 10,000 people have become IDPs after being forced to flee the fighting.

According to the TNLA, whenever the Myanmar Army loses a significant number of troops in fighting in ethnic areas, it targets civilians.

“The Myanmar Army should stop fighting in [Rakhine]. If not, the fighting will get worse in the region. We are worried that there have been many cases of human right abuses. We have found that [the Tatmadaw] has acted very badly in [Rakhine] compared to other ethnic areas when it comes to rights abuses,” Brig-Gen. Tar Phone Kyaw said.