Hostilities between the Arakan Army (AA), a Buddhist Rakhine military fighting for autonomy in western Myanmars Rakhine state, and the government military erupted a new late last year and have continued into 2019. The government branded the AA a terrorist organization after its soldiers carried out coordinated attacks on four police outposts near Myanmars border with Bangladesh on Jan. 4, killing 13 officers injuring nine others. A similar assault on another police outpost in Ponnakyun townships Yoetayoke village in early March killed nine officers. The government has also accused the AA of having ties to the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), a Muslim military group that carried out deadly raids on police outposts in northern Rakhine state in August 2017, prompting a brutal military crackdown on Rohingya Muslims. In an exclusive interview with Elizabeth Janmar from RFAs Myanmar Service, Brigadier General Nyo Tun Aung, the AAs deputy commander-in-chief, discusses deadly raids on police outposts, the governments accusation that the AA is linked to ARSA, and what it would take to end the fighting in Rakhine state.
RFA: Do you think it was fair for the AA to launch deadly raids on police posts and kill policemen?
Nyo Tun Aung: We warned police first to do their own jobs. We released statements and then sent them warning letters. Most police officials are transferred from the military. One-third of the security guards are former soldiers. These so-called police who are mostly former soldiers arrested, persecuted, and charged our people whenever they wanted, mostly under Section 17 (1) [of Myanmars colonial-era Unlawful Associations Act, which carries a three-year prison sentence for those who interact with an unlawful association, such as an ethnic armed group like the AA]. Most people are talking about the AAs attack on police posts on Jan. 4, but they dont know what happened before Jan. 4. As we had many clashes and a lot of pressure, we had to do it as a military outlet. January 4 is [Myanmars] Independence Day, but there is no weekend or holiday in war. We cant say, Lets stop fighting for a while because it is the weekend. If we keep having this pressure offensives and heavy weapons attacks by them then we will strike them back like we did on Jan. 4 and during the attack the Yoetayoke Police Station [in Ponnakyun township on March 9]. But, I can say that we will not do anything to policemen who genuinely provide protection to people. Some Rakhine ethnics died during the Yoetayoke village police station attack, and we want to apologize for them.
RFA: What about the governments accusation that the AA is connected to ARSA?
Nyo Tun Aung: We dont have any connection to ARSA at all. We didnt have any connection with it in the past and dont have any now. The Myanmar government declared it a terrorist organization, and the world recognizes it as a terrorist organization as well. We know that we can be labelled terrorists if we work together with terrorists, so we are very careful not to get involved with ARSA. We have a policy that we cant get involved with ARSA. The AA is member of the FPNCC [Federal Political Negotiation and Consultative Committee, a group of ethnic armed organizations which have proposed a confederate system in Myanmar that allows them to maintain their own armed forces]. If we get involved with ARSA, our other alliance FPNCC members can be named as terrorist groups. We wont destroy our current political and military standards [by getting involved with ARSA].
RFA: The government army says that Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi instructed it to crush the AA. Whats your take on this?
Nyo Tun Aung: It would be like saying, If you scratch my back, Ill scratch yours. If she said this, we dont need to say anything back. But we will have to do something to get what we want.
RFA: When will the fighting in Rakhine state end?
Nyo Tun Aung: There will be no fighting when the government army leaves Rakhine state.
RFA: The AAs commander-in-chief has talked about the formation of a confederation. Some people say that that would destroy the country. What kind of confederation does he mean?
Nyo Tun Aung: What we mean is something based on equality and the same treatment as other nationalities. Most ethnic armed groups want to have the same status as the Wa group [an ethnic group that has an autonomous self-administered division in Myanmar]. Our FPNCC has policies, and if we can have this political standard, then we can say our expectations will be fulfilled to some extent.
Q: Any final thoughts?
Nyo Tun Aung: The AA has grown bigger and bigger within the past 10 years because we have focused on the military sector. The government armys persecution is making us stronger. A revolution occurs because of persecution.
Reported by Elizabeth Janmar for RFAs Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.
Copyright 1998-2018, RFA. Published with the permission of Radio Free Asia, 2025 M St. NW, Suite 300, Washington DC 20036