By Dr. S. Chandrasekharan
There was an unnoticed report in the media that said that the Arakan Army – its increasing strength, growing popular acceptance of its military role should be of national and international concern. National concern- because a new front is being opened in the West near Bangladesh and Indian border and second with the disturbed condition in the Rakhine the possibility of the seven hundred thousand Rohingyas of retuning to Northern Rakhine becomes even more remote as the refugees would after all look for security besides anything else.
It was unfortunate that following the incident in the beginning of the year of the Arakan Army attacking four security posts, the Suu Kyi’ Government gave orders to go all out to crush the Arakan Army. Repeatedly statements from the Government side as also from Tatmadaw have said that they will not allow Arakan Army any space in Rakhine but they could go back to Laiza the Headquarters of the KIA where they were trained.( Brig Gen Zaw Min in a press conference on 28th May).
The Myanmar Army has taken some heavy casualities in the recent times. The Chief of Western Command has been replaced with another General Maj. Gen. Phone Myat. The Army has been authorized to use helicopter gunships and more civilian casualties can be expected.
The insurgency has also spread to Chin area in Paletwa. There was a major incident on 26th May. In another major incident five high ranking military officers including two Battalion commanders were killed when the boats in which they were travelling in the Kaladan river were ambushed. On 12th June , closer to Paletwa itself, fierce fighting took place, resulting in over 750 civilians fleeing the urban areas of the townships for fear of being trapped. The fighting is not getting restricted to Rakhine but spreading to Chin areas too.
With ceasefire in force in all other areas and with large reinforcements sent to Rakhine area-yet it has not been easy for Myanmar army to clear the area of the Insurgents of the Arakan Army. In fact, a military solution is already out of reach right now with the AA already well entrenched in Rakhine State.
It is said that the Arakan Army is well equipped and trained and many observers feel that they could carry on for three years without outside help. Thereafter they will have to find fresh supply lines all the way to Laiza and beyond.Therefore, their dream of attaining “Rakhita” by 2020”- that is the Arakan dream may be a long time goal but at any rate not by 2020. It is also to be noted that except for vocal support none of the members of the Northern alliance or the seven party FPNCC led by the UWSA group would come to the rescue of the AA in the near future. This will not be allowed by China too, their mentor and on whose support the entity is thriving. AA is also aware of this situation. While it can rapidly expand its territory in Rakhine and beyond to some extent in the Chin area, their objective of getting self-determination and greater autonomy on their own by 2020 appears doubtful.
Gen. Gun Maw of KIA when he spoke to the media during the Wa celebrations said that there is a need to negotiate by the Myanmar Government. Rather than insisting that the AA should not enter Rakhine State, the Myanmar Government according to him should negotiate with the Arakan Army. These are perhaps the sentiments of other members of the seven-party alliance too.
Since both the Myanmar Army and the Arakan Army cannot attain the objectives in the near term, the best way is to negotiate and go first for a cease fire.
It has come to light that the Myanmar Government has opened a channel with the Arakan Army for negotiations. This initiative must have been taken with full approval of Myanmar Army too. The Government has has issued a guarantee of the safety of the Arakan Army Representatives to meet the Government officials in Government controlled areas. It had proposed locations in Myitkyina, Lashio and Yangon while the Arakan Army in turn has suggested Pangshang, Muisse on the Chinese border or even in Kunming , Yunnan China. (Thus China will also get involved if it has not done so already with its Kyaukphyu project for an opening to the Indian Ocean!)
The Arakan Army is said to be concerned about the safety of its leaders because of the ongoing clashes. But the Director General of the President’s Office told the reporters in May end that the Tatmadaw will guarantee their safety. With total lack of trust between the Tatmadaw and the AA, may be a location outside Myanmar may suit both sides.
If Myanmar Government is sincere in starting a dialogue with the Arakan Representatives, it should first review the case of U Aye Maung , former chief of the ANP who has been sentenced to 20 years in prison for treason. With Rakhine State voting overwhelmingly for local ethnic candidates, the wisdom of posting an outsider from NLD as Chief Minister will also have to be reviewed. It is believed that Representatives of the Army and its proxies the USDP are already moving for an amendment to empower the Regional and State Legislators to appoint State and regional Ministers!
Of interest to India
First is the safety of the Indian multi modal Kaladan project from Sittwe through Paletwa to the border of Mizoram State. Twan Mrat Naing the Head of the Arakan Army in an interview during the Wa State (UWSA) celebrations, said that they welcomed investments in Rakhine area and that he does not oppose the Kaladan Project. This is contrary to an Indian report that there is a danger to the Indian Kaladan multi modal project. The Indian report made other claims that the Indian Army had jointly worked with Myanmar Army in operation Sunrise 1 and Sunrise 2. This has been quickly denied and dismissed by the Spokesman of Myanmar Army.
Second is that with the intensification of fighting between Myanmar Army and the AA and the fighting coming close to Paletwa township and the Chin area the border between India and Myanmar gets destabilized. A large number of refugees are said to have already moved into India. Civilians are bound to move wherever there is safety no matter where the borders are!
One offshoot of the situation in Rakhine is that the Myanmar Army has since dispersed most of the Indian insurgent groups operating from the Taga Area. It is interesting to note that the Hkmati District Court has sentenced on 15th May about 24 Assam and Meitei Rebels for two years from staging a rebellion against the Indian Government! Those sentenced belonged to various groups like MPA, KYKL, PLA Prepak. PRP of Kangleipak. Several senior leaders of NSCN of Khaplong groups are also in the custody of the Myanmar Army.
It has just come to light that the seven members of FPNCC met at Panshang on the 19th June and decided to seek cease fire individually with the Myanmar Army. This fits in with another move to delink political dialogue from the ceasefire . If both these initiatives happen, then there could be some peace and stability in the area paving the way for economic development and unhindered by insurgency.