Gov’t Accuses AA of Having Ties with ARSA

By The Irrawaddy 7 January 2019

YANGON—The Myanmar President’s Office on Monday accused the Arakan Army (AA), an ethnic Rakhine armed group responsible for last week’s deadly attacks on four police outposts, of having ties to the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), a Rohingya insurgent group denounced by the government as a terrorist organization.

The AA has been fighting Myanmar government forces in northern Rakhine State for several years with the aim of establishing a federal state system. Since last month, it has intensified its military activities.

ARSA launched a series of attacks on police outposts in 2017 in northern Rakhine, claiming it was defending the rights of Rohingya Muslims. The attack led to clearance operations by security forces that prompted nearly 700,000 Rohingya to flee to nearby Bangladesh.

President’s Office spokesperson U Zaw Htay said at a press conference on Monday that AA and ARSA officials met in Ramu, Bangladesh in July last year. He said the government had learned from sources that the meeting was likely held to discuss the groups’ respective areas of control within Myanmar.

“We learned they agreed that areas west of the Mayu mountain range [close to Bangladesh] would be controlled by ARSA, while areas to the east would be for the AA,” he said. The spokesperson added that the AA currently has two bases on the Bangladeshi side of the border, while ARSA has three. The Myanmar government has lodged a complaint with Bangladesh over the issue, he said.

Citing a different source, he said the two organizations have a common interest in the illegal drug trade, but didn’t elaborate. Northern Rakhine is notorious for frequent seizures of huge amount of yaba and other drugs.

“I think the recent [AA] attacks [on police outposts] are the outcome of their meetings in July,” said U Zaw Htay, adding that the Myanmar government had ordered the military to implement effective counter-insurgency measures against the AA.

AA spokesperson U Khaing Thukha denied the accusations, saying his organization had nothing to do with ARSA and was not involved in any illegal businesses, including drug trafficking.

“We have our own mission. The Myanmar government is trying to ruin our image by saying that we have an affiliation with ARSA. It’s dirty politics by them to portray us a terrorist organization,” he said.

U Maung Maung Soe, an expert on ethnic affairs in Myanmar, told The Irrawaddy he was doubtful that the AA would be affiliated with ARSA, as the AA’s stated cause is the protection of the Rakhine people and their state.

“So, alleging a connection with ARSA is the best way to attack AA politically. It won’t solve the problem [however],” he said.

The President’s Office spokesperson urged the AA to end its alleged alliance with ARSA, and invited them to join peace talks. The AA has not officially joined the government’s peace process, but has held informal meetings with its Peace Commission.

“AA has to decide what they want to see for Rakhine State’s future. I want to ask them whether they want to see Rakhine State caught in a vicious cycle of war.”

The Irrawaddy reporter Nan Lwin Hnin Pwint contributed to this report.