YANGON—The political objective of the Arakan Army (AA), an Arakanese ethnic armed group currently clashing with the Myanmar Army, is to obtain confederate status for Rakhine State, AA chief Major-General Tun Myat Naing told The Irrawaddy.
“We prefer [a confederation of states] like Wa State, which has a larger share of power in line with the Constitution,” said Maj-Gen Tun Myat Naing, referring to the status of the AA’s ally, the United Wa State Army (UWSA), adding that a confederation is “better” than federalism.
“And we think it [a confederation] is more appropriate to the history of Rakhine State and the hopes of the Arakanese people,” he said.
“In a confederation, we have the authority to make decisions on our own. But there would be a common defense system. And there would be cooperation on market regulation and foreign affairs. To have control over our own destiny—self-determination—is the aspiration of every ethnic group. We can try,” he said.
Resource-rich Rakhine State is home to a number of strategic projects, but the Arakanese people do not benefit from them and live in poverty, he said.
The armed group has come under the spotlight after staging deadly attacks on border police outposts in Rakhine State’s Buthidaung Township on Jan. 4, prompting the President’s Office to instruct the Defence Ministry, which oversees the Myanmar Army (or Tatmadaw), to launch attacks on it, including air strikes if necessary.
Maj-Gen Tun Myat Naing said the AA, which has won popular support among the Arakanese people both inside and outside Rakhine State, upholds the general policy drafted by the Federal Political Negotiation and Consultative Committee (FPNCC), a bloc of seven ethnic armed groups based on Myanmar’s northeastern border and led by the UWSA.
The FPNCC has put forward its general policy as an alternative to the government-proposed Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement as an instrument for joining the peace process. It details 15 demands and proposes a confederate system as the future structure of the state.
It calls for allowing ethnic states to maintain their own armies, whereas the Tatmadaw insists there can only be one army. It also calls for granting complete authority to local governments regarding independent jurisdiction, legislation, resource exploitation and taxation.
Regarding the AA’s operations in Chin State’s Paletwa on the Myanmar-India border, Maj-Gen Tun Myat Naing said he is working to reassure the Indian government that it need not be concerned by its activities.
Ethnic affairs analyst U Maung Maung Soe said, “It is true that ethnic armed groups like the Wa and Mongla have autonomy. They think they will be able to develop their areas if they have such autonomy.”
The armed clashes will intensify if the Tatmadaw refuses to accept the confederate goal of the ethnic armed groups, he said.
“The Wa and Mongla are existing problems. If the same problem occurs in a new place, I think heavy fighting will recur. I don’t want to comment on whether it is right or wrong. Everyone has his own opinion about federation versus confederation,” he said.
Daw Aye Nu Sein, the vice chairperson of the Arakan National Party, declined to comment on the political objective of the AA.
However, she pointed out that when the ANP submitted a paper detailing the demands and aspirations of the Arakanese people to the 21st Century Panglong Peace Conference, it was criticized as having exceeded the boundaries of federalism.
“We have abundant resources we can utilize to develop our region. But due to the [current] system of government, Rakhine State is the least [developed] among the 14 regions and states,” Daw Aye Nu Sein said.