Have Burma Army Operations in Northern Arakan State Really Ended?

By The Irrawaddy 25 February 2017

RANGOON — After Burma’s newly appointed National Security Advisor, U Thaung Tun, told diplomats last week that the Burma Army had ceased four months of “clearance operations” in northern Arakan State, the situation in Maungdaw Township is back to normal, according to local people.

Abdu Raman of Maungdaw said Muslim residents of the town are now enjoying the freedom of movement and there is no more security checks in nearby villages— a situation that was quite unlikely until last month.

“We can freely travel in Maungdaw Township, both in northern and southern parts,” he said, adding that trip to the Bangladesh border town of Teknaf is now possible with official documents from Maungdaw authorities.

Aung Soe Moe, a villager of Aung Thaya village in northern Maungdaw Township in the heart of the rampant Burma Army manhunt, said there was now no security restrictions in the area.
“You can now travel through Muslim villages there—the situation is stable,” he told The Irrawaddy on Friday.

Despite the National Security Advisor’s statement that military operations had ceased in northern Arakan State, this was not accepted by the military command so easily.

“The situation in northern Rakhine [Arakan] has now stabilized. The clearance operations undertaken by the military have ceased, the curfew has been eased and there remains only a police presence to maintain the peace,” U Thaung Tun said, according in an official statement about the meeting last week.

The Burma Army itself has been noticeably silent on the security operations—the announcement that they had ceased came from the State Counselor’s Office.

In fact, Gen. Aung Ye Win—the spokesperson of the military—painted a very different picture of the situation when he spoke to The Irrawaddy the day after the security advisor meeting.
“We will not stop clearance operations. There will be regular security operations. Ceasing military operations [in northern Arakan State] is information I am not aware of,” he said.

U Thaung Tun’s first appearance with diplomats indicated that the State Counselor’s Office—headed by de facto leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi—tried to take over the security issue, which has been the core territory of the Home Affairs Ministry and Defense Ministry under the command of Commander-in-Chief of Burma’s armed forces.

Some observers fear that U Thaung Tun’s appointment puts him on a collision course with the powerful military.

At the briefing, U Thaung Tun was accompanied by U Kyaw Tint Swe, a former diplomat and now minister for the State Counselor’s Office and Dr Tin Myo Win, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s personal physician who was appointed as peace envoy.

No military personnel were present.

The Burma Army has been accused of extensive human rights abuses in northern Arakan State as it hunted for those responsible for armed attacks on border guard posts in October last year.
The military clashed with armed attackers on a number of occasions in the four-month operation and at one point fired from a helicopter as it evacuated troops.

In response to the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights Feb. 3 report of mass killings, gang rape, and arson against Rohingya Muslims, the Burma Army formed its own investigation team tasked with ascertaining whether security forces committed unlawful acts.