Prominent Arakanese Reject Gov’t Claim that AA Has Links to ARSA

By Htet Naing Zaw 9 January 2019

NAYPYITAW—The Arakanese community has responded with anger and disbelief to an accusation by the Myanmar President’s Office that the Arakan Army (AA) has ties to the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), a Rohingya insurgent group denounced by the government as a terrorist organization.

Numerous prominent Arakanese figures told The Irrawaddy they believed the accusation was baseless, casting serious doubt on the idea that the AA would ever cooperate with ARSA.

Following the deadly attacks launched by the Arakanese armed group against four Border Guard Police outposts in Rakhine State’s Buthidaung Township on Jan. 4, President’s Office spokesperson U Zaw Htay said at a press conference on Jan. 7 that the attacks were the outcome of meetings between the AA and ARSA in July last year.

He said AA and ARSA officials met in Ramu, Bangladesh and were likely to have discussed 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.

U Zaw Htay urged the Arakanese people to think about what kind of future they wanted for Rakhine State, and urged them to take the consequences into consideration before supporting the AA.

Arakanese people do not believe the government’s accusation at all, said Upper House Arakanese lawmaker U Khing Maung Latt. He described U Zaw Htay’s remarks regarding the Arakanese people as provocative.

“He offered his personal views, rather than the policy of the government. He is not authorized to make such comments, and they are not official. [The Arakanese community] perceives his words as a threat. [His remarks] are not peaceful. He spoke as if [the government] would use force,” said U Khin Maung Latt, who is also a member of the Arakan National Party.

The lawmaker added that he did not believe the spokesman’s warning to the Arakanese people was the result of the high-level meeting between government and Tatmadaw leaders in Naypyitaw on Monday.

According to Lower House lawmaker U Pe Than of Rakhine State’s Myebon Township, the Arakanese people would not accept the AA if it cooperated with ARSA. They do not believe that such ties exist, he added.

“We can’t accept that [the government] is only coming out with this after the recent attacks,” said U Pe Than, adding that it is unnatural that the AA would cooperate with the ARSA, a group he said was loathed in the Arakanese community.

U Tun Kyi, a prominent activist in the Rakhine community, said the Rakhine and “Bengali” communities are historical enemies, so it is impossible that the AA would have ties with ARSA. “Bengali” is a term used by the Arakanese community to refer to the Rohingya to imply that they are interlopers from Bangladesh.

The Rakhine issue has been described as “Arakanese-Bengali” crisis, and it is unacceptable that the government has only made the claim after the recent attacks, he said.

“The AA is supported by more than 99 percent of Arakanese people. Not only Rakhine State, but other states also have armed groups. Not only the Arakanese people, but all ethnic people support their own armed groups. The Kachin support the KIO [Kachin Independence Organization],” U Tun Kyi said.

Some Arakanese lawmakers believe both the AA and ARSA are being used as pawns by interest groups based in the US, China and Muslim countries.

The government’s statements regarding the Rakhine issue must be based on hard evidence, said political analyst Dr. Yan Myo Thein, pointing out that even news organizations need strong evidence before publishing a report.

“The Rakhine issue concerns the national peace process. It is very delicate and sensitive. So, there is a need to take a far-sighted and restrained approach to find an answer,” U Yan Myo Thein said.

In a statement released on Monday, the AA denied having ties with ARSA and called U Zaw Htay’s remark an “ultimatum” and an “insult to all Arakanese people”.