The Myanmar Military (or Tatmadaw) and the Arakan Army have clashed nearly 100 times since the ethnic armed group launched coordinated attacks on police stations on Jan. 4, according to military officials.
Major-General Soe Naing Oo, the head of the Tatmadaw’s True News Information Team, provided the statistics while sharing information about the military’s clashes with the AA since March 2015 at a press conference in Naypyitaw on Monday.
The first quarter of 2019 (from January to March 24) saw a dramatic increase in attacks, with 97 in all. Tatmadaw and AA troops have clashed 255 times since 2015: 15 times that year; 26 times in 2016; 56 times in 2017; and 61 times in 2018. The Tatmadaw also said its personnel were struck by mines laid by the AA in a total of 74 incidents since 2015, with more than half occurring from January-March 24, 2019 (39 times). Some of the mine incidents were fatal, the Tatmadaw officers said.
Unlike its previous press conference in January, at which the military revealed the number of AA troops killed from 2015 up to that month, this time the military did not provide a number of AA casualties since then.
Major-General Tun Tun Nyi, the deputy head of the True News Information Team, confirmed that there had been fatalities on both sides, but did not reveal how many government soldiers had been killed during clashes with the AA.
Observers have speculated that the number of AA casualties so far this year is already higher than the total of 73 last year, given the sharp increase in fighting in restive Rakhine State.
With regards to the fighting in Kyauktaw and Mrauk U townships in February and aerial attacks on villages in Ponnakyun and shooting and shelling in Mrauk U township in the last two weeks, the Tatmadaw said the incidents in Kyauktaw, Mrauk U, Ponnakyun and Buthetaung townships were counter-insurgency actions taken against the AA, which it said targeted administrative mechanisms and security forces manning national border posts.
The military spokesmen reiterated their stance that the fighting was “unavoidable” in Rakhine State in February and March, as AA troops disguised as civilians were shooting at both Tatmadaw units in the field and at units in their bases.
The number of people displaced due to the fighting and government shelling reached some 20,000, according to local charity groups.
As at its previous press briefings, the Tatmadaw shared information on how ethnic armed organizations in the unilateral ceasefire regions are violating its call for them to stop inter-ethnic fighting, crossing territorial boundaries, extorting money and forcibly recruiting local residents. Monday’s press conference also included updates about the Tatmadaw’s participation in the government’s current peace efforts.
Maj-Gen. Soe Naing Oo said boundary crossing happened some 380 times during the three months since Dec. 21 in Kachin and Shan states. Inter-ethnic fighting was the second most common violation: engagements between the Restoration Council of Shan State and the Ta’ang Nationalities Liberation Army were the most frequent (40), while military engagements between the Tatmadaw and EAOs occurred 33 times.
Despite these accusations against the EAOs, the Tatmadaw held three separate meetings in the period: with the Shan State Progressive Party on Feb. 25, the Restoration Council of Shan State on March 12, and the Karenni National Progressive Party on March 19 in Naypyitaw, following these groups’ meetings with the government’s National Reconciliation and Peace Center.
Maj-Gen. Soe Naing Oo was optimistic that the ongoing peace talks would help to bring success to peace building, but said, “some EAOs need to demand only what’s possible [to achieve peace] … instead of childish thinking and imaginary acts,” but he did not give details on which group he was referring to. The Tatmadaw has vowed to achieve peace by 2020, but also made clear that it would stay in politics as long as the EAOs exist in the country.
The Tatmadaw did not directly reveal whether it plans to extend its four-month truce in the five military commands in the north and northeast of Myanmar at its third press conference in Naypyitaw on Monday.
Responding to The Irrawaddy’s question, Maj-Gen. Soe Naing Oo said, “Actually four months, or 130 days, is enough time to build peace.” He went on to say that the Tatmadaw’s main responsibility is to protect the state from foreign enemies, and it was trying hard to do this.
“We have the fighting ability,” he added. “But we don’t want to fight with our brothers; thus we called the ceasefire.”