Rakhine parliament approves proposal to seek removal of Arakan Army from list of terrorist groups

The Rakhine state parliament approved a motion on Thursday calling on the Union government to remove the Arakan Army (AA) from a list of terrorist organisations.

The proposal, which was put forward by Arakan National Party (ANP) representative Tun Thar Sein, comes two months after clashes between the AA and the military came to halt and more than a month after the two sides met for talks. 

Tun Thar Sein, who represents Mrauk U township, was among seven MPs who discussed the motion. There were no objections from MPs representing the military, the Union Solidarity and Development Party, or the National League for Democracy.   

The legislature’s 47 lawmakers, 12 of whom are unelected military MPs, did not vote on the motion, but rather the speaker asked the parliament if there were any objections, and then approved it when there were none. 

“We want peace,” Tun Thar Sein told Myanmar Now earlier this week. “If the terrorist label is not removed, then military leaders will be breaking the law by meeting with the AA’s leaders.”

Aung Win, the ANP representative for Myebon, told the state parliament that removing the AA from the terrorist list was an important step towards holding peace negotiations, ending internal conflict nationwide, and ultimately helping Myanmar to achieve a federal democracy.  

“There’s no other way,” he said. “The peace process must be discussed with regard to the clashes between the AA and the military in Rakhine.”

Hla Thein Aung, the ANP MP for Minbya, said the terrorist label was a hindrance to the peace process. 

“To have a better future, for the people to live peacefully and for the country to improve, the clashes need to be reevaluated and there needs to be discussions.” he said. “There needs to be discussions with other ethnic groups and the AA needs to be officially accepted by the state in those discussions.” 

The AA shares the same destiny as the Rakhine people and represents their dissatisfaction due to poverty and their exclusion from politics and development, said Maung Ohn, the ANP representative for Maungdaw.

Rakhine’s military-appointed security and border affairs minister, Colonel Min Thant, said after the session that the AA may still “commit terrorism” in the future. 

“Is the parliamentary representative who tabled this proposal going to guarantee that the AA won’t commit terrorism in the future? Who’s going to take responsibility? It’s important,” he told Myanmar Now.

The speaker of the Rakhine state parliament will now present the motion to the president via the chief minister Nyi Pu.

The government declared the AA a terrorist group on March 23 last year, a move which led to the arrests of journalists who interviewed the group’s spokesperson. The designation also meant the AA was officially excluded from unilateral ceasefires announced by the military.

The fighting in Rakhine and southern Chin has displaced more than 200,000 people and killed and injured at least hundreds of civilians, though an exact figure of the casualties is not known. 

The clashes stopped in early November as Myanmar held its general election. 

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