Military chief Min Aung Hlaing supports Arakan Army call to hold by-elections in Rakhine by end of year 

Myanmar military chief Min Aung Hlaing has backed calls from the Arakan Army (AA) for by-elections to be held in Rakhine state this year in areas where voting was cancelled due to fighting on November 8. 

In a seven-page open letter to mark the 46th anniversary of Rakhine State Day on Tuesday, the Senior General said the Tatmdaw “welcomes the statement from the AA saying it wants the responsible bodies to hold elections in some areas… before December 31, 2020.” 

“We have also started to collaborate [with authorities] to make it possible to hold the elections in those areas,” he wrote. 

The letter did not mention a meeting held last week between AA and Tatmadaw officials in the Wa capital of Pangsang, which was seen as a sign of hope two years after fierce fighting began between the two sides.  

President Win Myint’s Rakhine State Day address also mentioned that he would like to hold by-elections in northern Rakhine townships where the election was cancelled. 

More than 200,000 people have fled their homes in Rakhine state and southern Chin and hundreds have been killed because of the conflict. 

Fighting between the two groups stopped around polling day last month, although the Tatmadaw has not officially accepted the AA’s offer of a ceasefire, and tens of thousands have since been able to return home as a result. 

The AA is still officially considered a terrorist organisation, a designation it was given by the government in March. 

Min Aung Hlaing expressed a desire to bring “long-lasting peace” to Rakhine state in his letter. 

“The Tatmadaw is trying to solve the issues related to humanitarian assistance, resettlement, development, and long-lasting peace that people in Rakhine state are facing nowadays.”

He added: “I acknowledge the good attitude of the Rakhine ethnic people who have strongly overcome hardships with fortitude and diligence every time when they have faced them.”

Some observers have speculated that Min Aung Hlaing is seeking to establish a legacy as a peacemaker ahead of his expected retirement next year. 

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