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Interview: ‘We are very keen to stop fighting’

Arakan Army commander-in- chief Brigadier-General Tun Myat Naing (Photo: DVB)

Arakan Army’s commander-in-chief Brigadier-General Tun Myat Naing speaks to DVB about the conflict in Arakan State.

Question: Can you give us the latest update on the armed conflict in Arakan State?

Answer: The conflict began when the Burmese Army advanced their units from the 5th, 9th and 15th Military Operations Commands into areas we occupy, prompting us to defend ourselves with manoeuvre warfare and the clashes forced locals to flee. We have experienced about seven or eight head-on clashes so far and numerous sporadic skirmishes. The Burmese Army usually responds to these ambushes by blind-firing their artillery, which sends locals fleeing from their homes as shells land in the village. It appears that the Burmese Army are on a mission to wipe us out – they are cutting all the supply and transportation routes, causing food shortages in local villages and displacing people.

Q: How about casualties?

A: One soldier was killed in the fighting on 16 May, and we counted eight or nine others injured– one is in a serious condition. We had our positions thoroughly fortified as the government forces tried to overrun us by launching many infantry units. Apparently the infantry units suffered a lot of casualties – up to dozens –  according to civilian witnesses who saw Burmese soldiers arriving at local hospitals.

Q: What needs to be done to stop the conflict?

A: Essentially the Burmese Army should stop their military offensives. It wasn’t us who started the fighting – for a long time we have been looking to resolve the issues via engagement through a political dialogue with the government, elected by the people. We didn’t provoke this aggression, in fact we are very keen to stop fighting, as we realise it is the people who suffer the most from armed conflict. However, we were forced to defend ourselves due to the Burmese Army aggression.

Q: How about the plight of IDPs?

A: Various NGOs and civil society organisations are working on the issue. If necessary, we will seek assistance from international organisations.

Q: Have there been any recent clashes?

A: At this time, we have instructed our troops to avoid engaging with the Burmese Army as much as possible. There have been no major clashes but we still may be provoked to fight if we are cornered, and that would further intensify the situation.

Q: Does the AA receive any assistance from other ethnic armed groups?

A: We conduct joint military operations as part of ethnic coalition forces in Kachin, Kokang and Palaung regions as well as in Karen State in DKBA territory – we have a lot of friends and more or less cooperate with them. I don’t want to go into specific details due to operational security.

Q: Do you see any prospect for a peace-making dialogue with the government?

A: As for the word “peace-making”, we would rather use the term “looking for political resolution”. We are fighting for a political status; the rights that we deserve and when we achieve those – peace should be imminent. The incumbent government is the government elected by the people under a democratic system and we are hoping they will look to building a federal union in line with the people’s will. But there is the question; how much will the army listen to the government?

Q: Has the new government approached the AA?

A: Not at this moment, but we are always ready for a political dialogue.

Q: Recently an emergency proposal was put forward in parliament urging an end to hostilities in Arakan State. What is your stance on this?

A: This was according to the people’s will – the people don’t wish for conflict. They want to see a political resolution. We were very surprised by the parliament’s decision to put it on record – this is a parliament formed under the 2008 Constitution and if this is how they respond to ethnic issues, then this is not a good sign. The end of the conflict in Arakan State is what the Arakanese people wish for, but it was merely put on record and we are concerned the parliament will continue the same stance on other ethnic issues. As for us, if we don’t get the rights our people deserve, we will continue in the armed struggle, but we are ready for a dialogue for the democratic rights of Arakan people and the people of Burma.