Rakhine Ceasefire Puts Pressure on Other Groups Battling Myanmar Junta

By Yuzana 2 December 2022

A recent ceasefire between Myanmar’s military regime and the Arakan Army (AA) in Rakhine State has sparked concern among other revolutionary forces that the junta will redeploy troops to launch offensives in their areas.

The junta and the ethnic armed organization agreed to a temporary ceasefire last week to address local food and medicine shortages after junta troops blocked supply routes. The ceasefire was brokered by the chairman of Japan’s Nippon Foundation, Yohei Sasakawa, who is close to junta chief Min Aung Hlaing.

Sasakawa also mediated the previous ceasefire between the Myanmar military and the AA ahead of the November 2020 general election, after two years of intense fighting. That truce held even after the military coup in February last year triggered a nationwide revolt against junta rule by other ethnic armed forces and local resistance forces.

However, clashes in Rakhine flared again in May after the junta began arresting civilians and blocking the flow of goods, said the AA. Seven months on, both sides have agreed a temporary truce for humanitarian relief.

Impact on other revolutionary forces

The Myanmar military has deployed about 40,000 soldiers in Rakhine State, according to AA.

The troop deployment is large for a regime army that has been depleted by years of defections and rising casualties from battles with resistance forces across the country since 2021.

Regime troops from the Ayeyarwady Region Coast Guard and four Light Infantry Divisions – the 11th, 22nd, 77th and 55th – have deployed in Rakhine State.

The 11th and 22nd Light Infantry Divisions are stationed in Buthidaung township and northern Maungdaw while the 55th is based in southern Paletwa, between Paletwa and Kyauktaw township. The four divisions are from Yangon Region, Bago Region, Southern Shan State and Karen State, respectively.

PDF troops in Karenni (Kayah) State.

Troops from the 19th Military Operations Command have set up a base in northern Paletwa.

Junta forces in Rakhine have also been swelled by rebadged Western Command soldiers from other light infantry divisions, especially in Ann township, according to AA spokesperson Khaing Thukha.

The longer the ceasefire holds, the more likely the junta will divert troops from Rakhine to neighboring Chin State and Magwe and Sagaing regions, where it is targeting both civilians and armed resistance groups in a fierce struggle for control.

“This is a chance for the military to gather its strength. If the ceasefire holds for a long time, it may harm both the public and resistance forces in our areas,” Ko Wai Gyi, a representative of Yesagyo People’s Defense Force in Magwe Region, told The Irrawaddy.

A spokesperson for Chin Defense Force (Paletwa) also voiced concern over the Rakhine ceasefire, adding the resistance group was short of weapons and ammunition.

Members of the Chin Defense Force (Paletwa) in training.

“Paletwa is the nearest [Chin] township to Rakhine State. It’s really worrying, ” he told The Irrawaddy.

Any ceasefire between the military and a powerful armed force weakened the revolution, said Ko Nway Oo, a spokesperson for the Civil Defence and Security Organization in Myaung Township, Sagaing Region.

“If the military doesn’t have to use troops on one front, it can use them on the other front. So, we need to prepare a strategy to respond,” Ko Nway Oo told The Irrawaddy.

There is also criticism of the AA for calling a ceasefire when people across the country have risen against the military.

The AA spokesperson responded that it had already explained the reason for the ceasefire and welcomed different opinions.

“Intense wars in any country are interrupted by ceasefires if they become necessary. Those who have spoken out with different views will soon come to understand [this ceasefire],” Khaing Thukha said.

Doubts about redeployment

Although resistance forces and civilians are worried about possible offensives in other regions following the ceasefire, the junta cannot afford to withdraw its troops from Rakhine, according to an observer of military affairs.

“Since the truce is just a mutual understanding not backed by a written agreement, fighting could resume at any time. So, the military will not dare to withdraw its troops from Rakhine State,” said the observer, who requested anonymity for safety reasons.

Moreover, junta naval forces in coastal Rakhine State cannot switch to other battlegrounds. Only the regime air force could redeploy to other regions, he added.

The defense minister of the parallel civilian National Unity Government (NUG) agrees with that assessment. U Yee Mon told Radio Free Asia that he doubted the junta could redeploy soldiers from Rakhine to other battlefronts.

“There will be a few changes in troop arrangements. But, pulling all of its troops out of Rakhine and sending them to other fronts seems unlikely, “U Yee Mon said.

He said the NUG also believes the AA will not abandon the revolution and is sure the ceasefire is temporary.

Message from resistance forces

Resistance forces have nevertheless been urged to prepare for the possibility of heavy regime offensives in their regions.

On the other hand, the ceasefire won’t have a serious impact on the ongoing anti-regime resistance movement, Ko Nway Oo and Ko Wai Gyi said.

“The sooner the whole country participates in the revolution, the sooner the revolution will be over. Even if the whole country can’t participate in the revolution, it is better to expand the war front,” said Ko Wai Gyi from the Yesagyo People’s Defense Force in Magwe.

He also asked the NUG to negotiate with ethnic armed organizations to expand the war of resistance against military rule.