Arakan Army keen for stronger ties with Bangladesh
'In regard to Bangladesh’s authorities, it’s (the relation) not that bad, but not yet so good either,' said Major General Tun Myat Naing
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The chief of Myanmar’s armed rebel group the Arakan Army (AA) has said that their relation with Bangladesh needs to be improved despite it being so-so.
Major General Tun Myat Naing said: “In regard to Bangladesh’s authorities, it’s (the relation) not that bad, but not yet so good either. We haven’t noticed that the Bangladesh government has a clear policy or strategy for a formal or informal relationship with us yet.”
Talking to the Asia Times recently, he hoped: “It (the relation with Bangladesh) should be improved though; they (Bangladesh authorities) should take a step forward and do so proactively.
A better relationship, Naing stated, would be mutually beneficial for both the rebel group and Bangladesh government, and, more importantly, in coping with the refugees, aid delivery, the pandemic and security issues.
“In order to better serve the interests of the people on both sides, the relationship could also be extended to include health care, education, trade and commerce and other sectors,” he opined.
Talking on the situation in the Rakhine state, where the group and Myanmar military agreed an informal ceasefire agreement soon after the November 2020 election, he said the truce was so stable.
“We have been at daggers drawn. It’s uncertain how long the ceasefire will last, but we wish to have a meaningful ceasefire for mutual benefit and interests,” said observed the 43-year-old rebel commander.
‘Aiming to stay together’
Asked if an independent Rakhine is their final goal or they want it to be an autonomy within a federal union, he said: “The right to self-determination and sovereignty is at the heart of our national movements.
“We will see whether a Federal Union of Myanmar will have the political space for the kind of confederation that our Arakanese people aspire for.”
The rebel group, he said, aims to remain with ethnic people.
“But if our rightful political status which we desire is not accommodated within this union, it would behoove us to be a member of the international community on our own,” he added.
No Rohingya return now?
He recently told a Bangla daily that they recognize the human rights and citizenship rights of Rohingyas.
Replying to a question whether he now wanted their repatriation from Bangladesh, he reiterating the recognition for all residents of Rakhine state.
But a massive repatriation of refugees in the current situation could unleash a new wave of unrest, he feared, suggesting: “Any repatriation would have to be voluntary and be done by legal means under international supervision.”
China, Japan can be gamechangers
Regarding the potential efforts that China and Japan can make for a peaceful solution to the conflict in Rakhine and the rest of Myanmar, he finds the countries crucial.
“In theory, they can play a vital role but reality is more complex. Changes have to come from within, and that would sound more probable and realistic to me. But the odds are still unclear.
‘Rohingya an offensive term’
A major issue for most Arakanese would also be the name with which the refugees would want to be identified, according to him.
“Rohingya is not a term that most Arakanese accept. They find it offensive as they feel that it deprives them of their history. They are the original inhabitants of the land,” he said.
The AA chief is confident about Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and Christians being able to live together peacefully in the state.
But he thinks it is only achievable when no outsiders manipulate them and use one group against another.
ARSA at fault in Cox’s Bazar camps?
Comparing between the Rohingya Solidarity Organization (RSO) and the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), he said the latter is politically less mature.
“… You can see what ARSA has been doing against their own community leaders at the villages inside Rakhine and at refugee camps in Bangladesh. Some educated Muslims in the diaspora are irresponsibly manipulating ARSA and exploiting the troubled political environment,” he said.
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