By SU MYAT MON | FRONTIER
YANGON — The Tatmadaw has blamed the Arakan Army for an escalation in fighting in Rakhine State, with military spokespeople accusing the armed group of harming civilians and labelling its demands “impossible”.
“With the thoughts of a child daydreaming, some of the armed groups are asking for what is impossible,” Major-General Soe Naing Oo, chair of the Tatmadaw’s True News Information Team, said at a press briefing in Nay Pyi Taw on Monday to discuss recent fighting with the AA. “Don’t ask for impossible things,” he said.
The AA’s stated objective, embodied in the slogan “Arakan Dream 2020”, is to establish an autonomous state similar to that controlled by the United Wa State Army. AA leader Major-General Tun Myat Naing has said the group will “take back Arakan”.
Tatmadaw Major-General Tun Tun Nyi on Monday blamed the AA for instigating fighting earlier this month in Mrauk-U, the former capital of the independent Rakhine kingdom. If Rakhine insurgents had not launched attacks, the Tatmadaw would not have retaliated, he said.
AA spokesperson U Khaing Thu Kha denied the allegation that the group had started the fighting to Frontier. “It’s a total lie,” he said by phone, adding, “Just listen to the people [who witnessed the fighting].”
Several thousand people have been displaced by violence that has spread since January from northern Rakhine State to Mrauk-U, and to the outskirts of the state capital Sittwe. At least six civilians have been reported killed.
The Tatmadaw clashed 97 times with the AA between January and March 24, Tun Tun Nyi said. The reason he gave for the fighting was that AA insurgents planted landmines, took money from local people and harmed civilians.
Soe Naing Oo said the Tatmadaw would not permit anyone to sabotage its political policies and its ambitions for Myanmar. “There is no space for such people to take root. That is the Tatmadaw’s policy and it is the state’s policy,” he said.
Khaing Thu Kha of the AA told Frontier the Rakhine people had lost the right to determine their own fate. “We had to talk about it and ask for it, regardless of their [the Tatmadaw’s] disagreement,” he said.
He accused the Tatmadaw of holding a press conference to cover up its war crimes. By making false statements, it also undermined the peace process, he said.
He also slammed the Tatmadaw’s True News Information Team, saying its purpose was not to share true information, but to twist the truth by “making a tortoise into a bug” – a Burmese-language metaphor for lying.
Tun Tun Nyi said that the Tatmadaw announced a ceasefire in December 2018 with the aim of promoting and creating a space for peace through politics, instead of armed conflict. The Tatmadaw opened the door to anyone who wanted to talk, he said.
The Commander-in-Chief’s Office announced a four-month ceasefire on December 21 across five regional commands in Kachin and Shan states, to pursue negotiations with armed groups based in those regions that are yet to sign the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement. There was no mention in the statement of operations in Rakhine State.
Several weeks later, the Tatmadaw intensified operations against the AA after the armed group launched an attack on police posts in Buthidaung Township on January 4 that killed 13 police officers.
After the attacks, the government ordered the Tatmadaw to launch a crackdown against the group, prompting anger among those in Rakhine who blame successive Union governments for the lack of development in one of Myanmar’s poorest states.
Tun Tun Nyi said that while a majority of people in Rakhine were “very honest” there were dangerous people in the state who wanted to attack the government by killing police officers. They had also provoked conflict between ethnic Rakhine and Bamar, which was dangerous for the state, he said.
“As for the Tatmadaw, it only carried out counter-insurgency operations against terrorists,” he said.