YANGON – Deputy Minister for Home Affairs Major-General Aung Soe told a regular session of the Upper House on Tuesday that the military had established at least 30 militia groups and armed three of them in northern Rakhine State’s conflict-torn Maungdaw district.
He was responding to a question from Arakan National Party (ANP) lawmaker Kyaw Kyaw Win about whether the government planned to establish and train militias in Maungdaw and Rathaedaung regions, especially in areas where the government could not permanently deploy security forces.
Maj-Gen Aung Soe said the Army was providing firearms training to groups in Bandhula, Tat Chaung and Wai Lar Taung villages. The groups had received tactical shooting training up to an advanced level in February and March last year, and further instruction was scheduled for this summer season, he said. Thus, there was no need to establish more militia groups, he said.
Maj-Gen Aung Soe did not elaborate on whether the Army was providing its own firearms to the militias or simply allowing them to use locally produced handmade, single-load rifles.
On Aug. 25, about six months after the militia training began, the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) — formerly known as Harakah al-Yaqin (Faith Movement) — staged serial attacks against nearly 30 border outposts and one military base in Maungdaw district, killing at least 10 policemen and one soldier, and making off with several dozen firearms.
The Myanmar Army declared the region a military operation zone and locked down the border. Its subsequent clearance operation drove more than 650,000 Rohingya into neighboring Bangladesh’s Teknaf district. The UN described the devastation that followed as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing”.
Lower House lawmaker U Aung Thaung Shwe of Maungdaw constituency said that in Bandhula, Tat Chaung and Wai Lar Taung villages, located in northern Maungdaw, two Arakanese sub-ethnic groups, the Mro and Khamme, rely on the resources of the Mayu mountain range to survive. He was critical of the government’s efforts at militia training, saying it had been discussing it since the Ma Sa La era, adding that it was only occasionally used in the previous Thein Sein administration.
He pointed out that the military had never equipped local villagers with its Ka Pa Sa arms, and merely allowed local handmade hunting rifles, which are not tactical assault rifles. Lawmaker U Aung Thaung Shwe said small ethnic groups armed themselves with single-shot rifles while fleeing heavy clashes between ARSA and government security forces.
“We have consistently urged [militia training] in Parliament, but it has never happened in this government’s term. They [the Army] are just talking about it. As far as I know, there has been no effective militia training or arming on the ground,” he said.
Upper House lawmaker U Kyaw Kyaw Win, who initially proposed the plan, could not be reached for comment on Tuesday afternoon.
Maj-Gen Aung Soe claimed that the Army had established 596 militia groups under its Western Command, located in Ann Township of Rakhine State, in order to implement regional stability and development projects. He added that the Army is trying to recruit new police officers for Buthidaung and Maungdaw townships and is collaborating with the Supreme Court and the Office of the Attorney General of Myanmar to enact the Border Police Force law.
The government had officially opened 12 new local police stations and expects to open another four soon, Maj-Gen Aung Soe said.