Without Public Support, Military Risks Losing Five Townships to AA
By Moe Myint 20 February 2019
YANGON – Maj. Thet Oo Maung, a military representative in the Rakhine state parliament, has accused the Arakan Army (AA) of planning to take over five townships in northern Rakhine State by 2020, drawing on his analysis of the AA’s recent series of offensives against the Myanmar military in the region.
The military major submitted a proposal to the Rakhine parliament on Wednesday in which he urged the Arakanese public to support the military’s operations in the region, saying the military always protects the lives of the public, and protects race and religion in Rakhine State and always protects the Arakanese from the danger of Muslim attacks.
“They plan to stage a coup in Paletwa, Kyauktaw and Mrauk-U by 2020 as part of their mission called the 2020 Arakan Dream,” Maj. Thet Oo Maung said during the parliament session.
He also accused the AA and the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) of coordinating on operations in the Mayu region, referring to Buthidaung and Maungdaw townships. AA leaders have rebutted similar accusations from the military several times.
AA spokesperson U Khine Thukha called the military MP’s proposal in the Rakhine parliament “ridiculous”. He suggested that the military hold a referendum within Rakhine State to find out whether the Arakanese public stands on the AA’s side or with the military, instead of trying to use parliamentary channels to sway the Arakanese public.
“If they are ready to leave Rakhine, just go ahead with a referendum. Then we will see a clear outcome,” said U Khine Thukha.
He pointed out that the military MP’s proposal was unprecedented. He said that asking for public support through parliamentary channels means acknowledging the military great losses in the ongoing battles in northern Rakhine and is solid evidence of the lack of support the public holds for it.
Maj. Thet Oo Maung’s proposal comes soon after a number of military soldiers were killed by the AA in three locations near the popular tourist destination of Mrauk-U on Tuesday. He also reiterated the accusations of his military superiors about the AA’s collaborations with ARSA in recent attacks on the military.
The military-appointed MP’s motion was voted down in the Arakan National Party (ANP)-dominant parliament. This is the second attempt to dissuade public support for the AA after the President Office’s Spokesperson U Zaw Htay warned the Arakanese public against supporting the AA.
U Phoe San, an MP from the ANP, said in parliament that peace-related proposals shouldn’t be brought up at regional level, saying they are mostly handled at Union level and thus the proposal would be ignored.
Since Tuesday morning, a number of clashes have erupted in three locations near the Sittwe-Yangon highway in Mrauk-U Township. Both the AA and the Office of the Commander-in-Chief confirmed Tuesday’s battles via their respective announcement channels.
The military has claimed to have the bodies of nine AA rebel group members as well as a rocket propel grenade (RPG) as a result of clashes near Mrauk-U Township’s Paung Tok Village. It did not mention its own causalities.
AA spokesperson U Khine Thukha acknowledged that at least three AA fighters were killed by military troops in the Mrauk-U clashes in which, he claimed, the AA column was ambushed by military troops near Yan Aung Pyin Village and that they lost one RPG. He said the Office of the Commander-in-Chief’s casualty figures were exaggerated.
U Khine Thukha explained that skirmishes had taken place near Kyauk Kyat, Zaydi Taung and Yan Aung Pyin villages. He said that the AA clashed with about 200 military troops under the 22nd Division in the morning and more fighting broke out near Ma Kyar Se Village in the afternoon and was ongoing as of Wednesday morning.
The AA spokesperson claimed that the AA shot down a military truck carrying about 20 soldiers near Kyauk Kya Village in Mrauk-U Township. The vehicle was completely blown out by the RPG attack, he said. At Ma Kyar Se and in Kyauk Kyat villages, the AA claims to have killed at least 10 military soldiers.
U Khine Thukha said that at least 30 government soldiers were killed during the clashes and that Mrauk-U locals had video evidence of blood stains on the Sittwe-Yangon highway where the remains of some government troops are still at the scene. He was referring to graphic footage which went viral on Facebook on Wednesday accompanied by a caption stating the remains included the ribs of some military soldiers. Locals at the scene verified to The Irrawaddy the authenticity of the video.
U Khine Thukha said AA fighters confiscated a large number of 60 mm mortar shells, some RPGs and machine guns belonging to the military column. According to him, fighting was ongoing at Ma Kyar Se village in Mrauk-U and Rathedaung Township’s Myin Hpu Village as well as in upper Paletwa Township, Chin State as of Wednesday.
One government school teacher in Rathedaung Township’s Myin Hpu Village announced on his Facebook page that military soldiers came into his school while the students were sitting their final exams on Wednesday.
He wrote, “Everyone in the school had to lay down on the floor.”
Under his post, a number of his colleagues wrote comments saying their mobile phones were seized by the military column and that they were out of signal as of this afternoon. Brig-Gen Zaw Min Tun of the Office of the Commander-in-Chief said that as of Wednesday evening he hadn’t received updated information from the battlefield in Rakhine State. On Wednesday the military deployed at least four helicopters for attacks on the AA in Mrauk-U and Rathedaung townships.