Suu Kyi’s Backing for Myanmar Military in Rakhine State Conflict Draws Criticism

By The Irrawaddy 24 April 2020

Myanmar’s State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has issued a statement saying she is happy rice is being shipped to Paletwa in Chin State, which has been isolated for a couple of months amid fighting between Myanmar’s military and the Arakan Army (AA).

The government has development plans to boost livelihoods when stability is restored to the township, her statement said.

It also condemned the AA as a “terrorist” group for committing subversive acts in Rakhine and Chin states while the government, residents and volunteers worked together to fight COVID-19. The State Counselor’s statement praised the Tatmadaw or military for protecting residents’ lives and property.

She pledged support for civilians affected by the fighting and to continue to strive for peace.

Her statement drew mixed reactions. The Irrawaddy’s reporters Min Aung Khine and Zin Lin Htet asked political analysts, state government ministers and members of ethnic armed organizations for their reactions.

U Maung Maung Soe

Ethnic affairs analyst

The consequences of the statement are that the NLD (National League for Democracy) has taken a particular side in the civil war and peace negotiations will now become difficult. It will complicate the peace process.

While she declared the AA was a terrorist organization and praised and supported the Tatmadaw who fight it, she said peace efforts would continue. This is contradictory. The NLD government must understand how to handle the peace process or it will get lost.

Dr. Min Zaw Oo

Executive director, Myanmar Institute for Peace and Security

This indicates that the government and the Tatmadaw have the same position on the Rakhine issue. We can interpret the statement as a further official reinforcement of this position. An organization cannot be declared a terrorist group without government approval.

Considering this, conflicts will further intensify in Rakhine State. The statement suggests the Tatmadaw will use greater force. We will see how things develop in the months to come.

I have predicted that the Rakhine issue is too hard to settle and often said negotiations will make little progress. It has become more obvious now.

Padoh Mahn Nyein Maung

Central executive committee member, Karen National Union

According to the experience of the Karen people, peace cannot be built on the battleground. The State Counselor, in fact, is the most responsible leader in Myanmar politics today. She is working day and night. We acknowledge and respect that. But regarding [the Rakhine conflict], as many other people think, she should be neutral.

The Tatmadaw will carry out its duties when national security is threatened. The government had better take a moderate stance and mediate in conflicts. Then the two sides will be more constructive towards each other.

Colonel Naw Bu

Information officer, Kachin Independence Army

The central executive committee of the KIO [Kachin Independence Organization] has not responded to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s statement. My view is that she should not take sides, but sit on the fence in conflicts.

She has taken the side of the Tatmadaw and this will make it more difficult to achieve peace. She said her government would continue to strive for peace, but did not clarify how. As the AA has been declared to be an unlawful association, it is impossible to hold political dialogue. To me, regarding the peace process, [the government] is saying one thing and doing another.

To end the civil wars, I think only the government and the Tatmadaw play the main role. I believe [problems] must be solved through political dialogue.

U Soe Htet

Chin State minister for municipal affairs, electricity and industry

I welcome the statement because I live in Paletwa. I think the statement was issued because the country’s leadership knows the real situation.

My home town Paletwa in Chin State was peaceful for decades. We had nothing to worry about.

Things began to be difficult only after 2015, firstly at the border [with Rakhine] and it later spread to the urban areas. Many people have been displaced. People died, went missing, were detained and everyone lives in fear and trepidation.

I don’t think the statement will worsen the situation. If the Tatmadaw can have greater control of the area, it will be more peaceful. The fighting will go on for a long time unless the issue is discussed at the negotiation table. If the fighting persists, the residents will bear the brunt. As a resident and government minister, I think the best option is to build peace through negotiations between the two sides.

Salai Issac Khin

Former Chin State minister for municipal affairs, electricity and industry

We welcome the statement as Paletwa has been suffering from immense hardship. There were difficulties to transport rice there. It is good news that it can be shipped. People know if the AA is doing as her statement claims. They know the faults of the military and AA in Chin and Rakhine states. The people understand the issues.

[Daw Aung San Suu Kyi] has expressed her position explicitly. The question as to what extent the labeling of the AA as a terrorist group can affect the peace process is addressed in the statement. It makes it harder for peace talks when the AA is named a terrorist organization.

As we fight COVID-19, we must be united and not divided. For this to happen there must be mutual respect and cooperation. Fighting should be suspended during the COVID-19 outbreak. If they want to fight, do it only after COVID-19 is over. My suggestion is that we take the opportunity [for talks] while we are faced with COVID-19.

U Pe Than

Lower House lawmaker, Arakan National Party

Her stance is made clear in the statement. She should should have mentioned the fighting in general, not just Paletwa. She only talked about Paletwa when she said she would work for sustainable development in the conflict zone after the fighting is over. It sounds like she is discriminating between Chin and Rakhine states.

The [government] needs to focus on peace talks. [The State Counselor] should have said political problems should be settled through peaceful means. That she views the one side as a terrorist group and praised the Tatmadaw does not push them to the negotiation table. She has taken the side of the Tatmadaw while labeling the AA as a terrorist group.

We want her to say that political disagreements should be settled around a table. Because her statement does not suggest anything to build peace for the war-affected people in Rakhine State, I’d say it is weak. To bring the AA to the negotiation table, first [the government and military] should have the will to discuss peace.

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