AA leader says group is ‘monitoring’ Myanmar military as fears of renewed conflict grow

The Arakan Army (AA) is “monitoring” the activities of the Myanmar military amid concerns about the stability of a ceasefire in Rakhine State, according to the group’s leader.

In an interview with the US-based media outlet Arakkha on Sunday, the AA’s military chief, General Twan Mrat Naing, said that the regime appears to be reacting to moves by the armed group and its political wing, the United League of Arakan (ULA), to establish its own judiciary and other administrative functions in the state.

“From our point of view, we are doing what we should do. Without understanding this, the junta’s army is intensifying its activities and posing threats, so we are carefully monitoring their activities,” he said.

The ULA/AA, which announced earlier this month that it would begin adjudicating legal cases submitted by members of the public, has increased its influence in Rakhine State substantially since entering into a ceasefire with the military late last year.

In response, the junta has moved to reassert its control by imposing new restrictions on the pretext of containing the spread of Covid-19, after the ULA/AA issued stay-at-home orders of its own in late July.

More concerning, however, have been the regime’s moves to strengthen its forces in the northern part of the state since the second week of August, which have raised fears among local civilians of a return to open hostilities.

Since the coup in February, Rakhine State has seen little of the unrest that has gripped most of the rest of the country. This has given rise to speculation that the AA has been working with the regime to discourage anti-coup activities in the state.

Twan Mrat Naing insisted, however, that the AA is not collaborating in any way with the junta: “To this day, we and the military council have not made any political commitment other than a temporary ceasefire,” he said.

“They released some of our people and we released some of theirs, because both sides thought it would be good for trust-building,” he added, noting that some members of the group remain in the regime’s custody.

Fierce clashes between the AA and the Myanmar military that began in late 2018 continued for nearly two years, until a ceasefire agreement was suddenly reached shortly before last year’s election in November. 

In March, the regime removed the AA from its list of terrorist organizations operating in the country, further normalizing relations between the two sides.

Twan Mrat Naing said that while the Rakhine people share many of the same aspirations as others in the country, they also have their own distinct goals.

“Just because there is a common enemy, one cannot be taken for granted as a friend. The many painful lessons and experiences we have gone through prove that it is just impossible,” he said.

While the AA is prepared to adjust its strategies as necessary, it remains committed to policies that will best serve the interests of the Rakhine people, he said.

There will be no compromise on the prime goal, which is to regain Arakanese sovereignty, he added.

Meanwhile, he said, the AA has ordered its troops not to clash with the junta’s army to avoid adding to the hardships of civilians already suffering due to the pandemic and displacement during the rainy season.

At present, the AA does not occupy any of the towns or cities in Rakhine State, but it has been able to increase its influence in these areas, and “the revolutionary process is 75% complete,” said Twan Mrat Naing.

He also said the group is committed to providing equal protection for all races and religions, including the Muslim community, which is the second largest in Rakhine State. He added that the ULA/AA has arranged for Muslims to join its administration and police force.

Despite declaring a unilateral ceasefire for the months of August and September, the regime continues to clash with both ethnic armed groups and local anti-coup resistance fighters in Sagaing Region and Kachin, Shan, Kayah, Kayin, and Chin states.

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