The Irrawaddy

Myanmar Army Partially Withdraws from Maungdaw, Allows Aid Access

A Myanmar soldier stands near Maungdaw, north of Rakhine state, Myanmar September 27, 2017. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun - RC116E9F7100

YANGON — The Myanmar Army withdrew dozens of soldiers from conflict-torn northern Rakhine State’s Maungdaw district on Wednesday, the Office of the Commander in Chief announced on its official Facebook page.

According to the statement, The Myanmar Army dispatched columns to fight the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), formally known as Harakah Al-Yakin (faith movement) and who attacked 30 border outposts and one military barracks, and conduct “clearance operations.”

The army decreased its operations after Sept. 5, the statement said, as Maungdaw district recovered from conflicts in August and the Myanmar Army pulled back troops from the region to be formed as an auxiliary force in state capital Sittwe.

The statement did not mention, however, the number of soldiers as well as the relevant infantry unit.

The military provided four pictures under the statement which captured the arrival of army soldiers in a navy ship as well as several military trucks in capital Sittwe.

An intelligence source based in Rakhine told The Irrawaddy that around 200 soldiers returned and at least one hundred soldiers may now remain in Maungdaw district.

The announcement of withdrawal by the military came two days after the U.S. State Department announced it would suspend travel waivers on Myanmar’s senior army generals as well as other responsible officials.

During a press briefing of US State Department’s deputy secretary Patrick Murphy on Oct. 24, he said: “We also want accountability for atrocities. As we announced last night, we have identified new and ongoing action to hold responsible those who have committed violence, including following measures, suspending travel weavers for military leaders, accessing existing authorities to consider options to target individual responsible for atrocities.”

The Irrawaddy contacted military spokesperson Maj-Gen Aung Ye Win in tas well as Rakhine State’s border affairs minister Col. Phone Tint in order to verify whether withdrawing troops in Maungtaw region was related to the US state department’s actions or not, but failed to reach them.

Myanmar President Office’s spokesman U Zaw Htay told The Irrawaddy’s Naypyitaw correspondent that imposing sanctions will hit development for the public of Myanmar and the World Bank’s withholding of US$200 million also potentially negatively affected the economic development of Myanmar.

“Sanctions could not be helpful for current situation in Myanmar as we are conducting with coordination and the country is still in a democratic transition process and just half way towards democratic federal union,” said U Zaw Htay.

Regarding military troops pulling back from Maungdaw district as a response to the US, ethnic affairs expert U Maung Maung Soe concluded that the actions of army is an attempt to prove to the international community that they are not applying excessive force, rather than a direct response to the US state department’s new approach.

“The announcement of US is just blaming the army and even imposing sanction would not greatly impact military leaders,” said U Maung Maung Soe.

In terms of the wording “excessive force” in military action, he argued that western countries could define the terminology based on considering heavy civilian casualties.

He pointed out even that the US applauded Philippine military forces for retaking Marawi from Isis. The situation between The Philippines and Myanmar, however, is completely different as ARSA militants used rudimentary weapons against security forces instead of fighting with firearms.

U Maung Maung Soe agreed with allegations of the international community that many Muslim villagers were fleeing to neighboring countries from the military’s brutal operations. He said, however, that western countries always blame one-sided to government and purportedly ignored to mention the name ARSA in their statements.

On Thursday, Commander-in-Chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing and UN Resident Coordinator to Myanmar Ms. Renata Dessallien discussed their point of views in Napyiyaw. On Friday, World Food Program (WFP)’s spokeswoman Bettiana Luescher told journalists in Geneva that Myanmar has given the green light to resume humanitarian assistance in northern Rakhine State.