Myanmar’s military regime and the ethnic Rakhine armed organization the Arakan Army (AA) have agreed to a temporary ceasefire brokered by Nippon Foundation chairperson Yohei Sasakawa, according to the AA.
The truce follows months of renewed hostilities in western Myanmar’s Rakhine State.
A junta source told The Irrawaddy: “This is the first stage of the ceasefire. There will be a second stage soon. That’s all I can say for now. Wait and see.”
As part of the ceasefire, the regime will relax travel restrictions in Rakhine and also end the blockade of the capital Sittwe, the business and transport hub of Rakhine, added the junta source.
On Monday, AA spokesperson Khaing Thukha said in an online press conference that the AA was observing an informal ceasefire for humanitarian reasons, and not because of pressure from foreign powers.
“Some [individuals] have acted as intermediaries to help alleviate the crisis for the [Rakhine] people. Frankly speaking, Nippon Foundation chair Mr. Sasakawa mediated the ceasefire,” the AA spokesperson told the media.
“The ceasefire has no time frame. We have agreed an informal ceasefire on humanitarian grounds for the sake of Rakhine people,” added Khaing Thukha.
After the ceasefire, the regime must lift the ban on the delivery of food and medicine to Rakhine from other parts of the country, said Khaing Thukha, who warned that fighting could erupt at any time if the junta breaks the agreement.
Yohei Sasakawa also mediated an informal ceasefire between the Myanmar military and the AA ahead of the November 2020 general election, after two years of intense fighting.
He visited northern Rakhine State ahead of the poll and his mediation resulted in nine Rakhine townships taking part in the election, after their participation was previously cancelled due to fighting between the military and the AA.
The 83-year-old is also Japan’s special envoy for national reconciliation in Myanmar. His philanthropist Nippon Foundation provides humanitarian assistance in Japan and overseas.
Some analysts said that the latest truce followed online negotiations between Lieutenant-General Yar Pyae of the Myanmar military and the AA’s Colonel Kyaw Han.
Over the past year, with the Myanmar military distracted by the fallout from its 2021 coup, the AA has further consolidated its control in Rakhine, building an administrative network delivering public services, a judiciary and a police force.
Tensions between the AA and the military escalated this May, as the regime attempted to counter the AA’s expanding influence. Since August, the two sides have been locked in heavy fighting in northern Rakhine State and Paletwa Township in neighboring Chin State.
Junta troops have suffered high casualties, as well as losing dozens of bases, in the renewed fighting. But civilians have suffered immensely from the regime’s travel restrictions and the ban on the delivery of food and medical supplies to certain townships.
Food prices have soared in many parts of Rakhine due to the blockade, while local farmers have been unable to harvest their paddy fields in parts of Rakhine because of the junta’s indiscriminate artillery strikes. The inability to harvest rice means that Rakhine will face a serious food shortage next year.
At the same time, over 40 civilians have been killed during the latest fighting and more than 60 injured by regime artillery strikes and killings in Kyauktaw, Minbya, Mrauk-U, Ponnagyun and Maungdaw townships.
Since the ceasefire, the junta has re-opened the Sittwe-Rathedaung-Buthidaung waterway, which was blocked off for over two months. It has also re-opened some roads in northern Maungdaw.
However, travel restrictions have not yet been lifted for the Sittwe-Ponnagyun road and boat transport linking Sittwe, Mrauk-U and Minbya townships. In Sittwe, people are still barred from passing through a junta checkpoint manned by a military police battalion at the entrance to town.
The Ponnagyun-Rathedaung road and the road linking Rathedaung and Maungdaw townships remain inaccessible, as the regime attempts to force the AA into making more compromises.
Junta leaders have called on the AA to withdraw its troops from the Sittwe-Ponnagyun road, and to re-open the routes to the Myanmar military’s Taungpyo and Khamaung Seik tactical commands in northern Maungdaw, which the AA is blockading.
“I don’t think the AA will withdraw its troops. We will have to wait and see how the two sides will negotiate,” a source close to the AA told The Irrawaddy.
Neither side has withdrawn its soldiers, despite the ceasefire.