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Dhaka Tribune


Arakan Army’s Vision: Beyond borders, shaping Myanmar’s post-junta future

  • Myanmar's Rakhine state has been the site of new clashes between the Arakan Army and the junta
  • An alliance of Myanmar rebel forces recently launched an offensive called ‘Operation 1027’
  • Myanmar has been in turmoil since the military ousted a government led by Aung San Suu Kyi in the 2021 coup
Update : 29 Nov 2023, 09:01 AM

The current war in Myanmar differs from past conflicts in the country because ethnic armies are no longer on the defensive, the spokesman for the most powerful ethnic army in Rakhine State told the Irrawaddy in an exclusive interview on Friday.

Junta troops are the ones how are on the defensive now as ethnic armies and resistance groups have unleashed fierce attacks on multiple fronts, Arakan Army (AA) spokesman Khaing Thu Kha explained.

The AA launched attacks in the north of Rakhine State in western Myanmar on November 13, intensifying pressure on a regime that was already struggling to contain resistance offensives in other parts of the country.

The surprise attacks ended a yearlong ceasefire with the junta.

Within 10 days, the ethnic army – which is a member of the Brotherhood Alliance that is attacking junta targets in northern Myanmar – seized four junta outposts and took control of more than 40 others it said were abandoned by regime troops.

Khaing Thu Kha said Operation 1027 (launched by the Brotherhood Alliance in northern Myanmar on October 27) has gone nation-wide. He also accused junta troops of committing war crimes in Rakhine State and discussed the AA’s vision for a post-junta Myanmar.

Why did the AA open a new front in Rakhine?

I just want to say that the battle erupting in Rakhine now is rooted in the clashes that are breaking out across the country. Although we had a ceasefire for humanitarian reasons, the Myanmar military made many restrictions on people in Rakhine State and oppressed them, which is another reason why fighting has been renewed in Rakhine. The military strategy of the junta is to oppress and put restrictions on people in Rakhine and they thought we … would not be able to fight them.

Did the junta contact you for negotiations?

So far, the junta hasn’t officially reached out to us. However, Myanmar military officers are visiting well-known monasteries in Rakhine cities. They are asking abbots to help request that we not enter towns and cities.

But on the ground, Myanmar military troops are targeting civilians. Instead of fighting one armed force to another, the Myanmar military is using its army, navy and air force to attack civilians. The junta is committing both war crimes and crimes against humanity.

What are the AA’s objectives?

It’s hard for me to expose our military objectives exactly. However, what I can say precisely is this [round of fighting] is very different in Rakhine and other parts of the country. It is quite different from any other previous fighting.

In the past, most parts of the country experienced Myanmar military offensives, but now the war – including in Rakhine and throughout the country – is [characterized by] offensives launched by ethnic armed groups and other revolutionary and resistance forces.

Will fighting also break out in southern Rakhine?

I can’t reveal the details of our military strategy, but as you can see, Operation 1027 has spread all over the country, and all the different armed groups are on the offensive … If you look at these offensives, you can see that Operation 1027 has now reached the nation-wide level … These offensives, including the one in Rakhine State, have gone nation-wide … which is the next level of Operation 1027.

What do you want to say to the world?

The Myanmar military has always attacked civilians. They are flagrantly committing war crimes and crimes against humanity.

In Rakhine State, the Myanmar military detained over 200 civilians in Pauktaw as hostages when they entered the town on November 16 … [Junta troops] used them as human shields. As a result, on November 21 the AA annihilated some Myanmar military troops in Pauktaw and rescued around 100 civilians.

And on November 22, by chasing and eliminating the junta’s military troops in the town, we were able to rescue another 104 residents. If you look at these situations, you can see that the Myanmar military has always been lying [when it says] they are not targeting civilians. It is not true.

In fact, the Myanmar military has always … used innocent civilians as human shields. In most incidents, [junta spokesman] Zaw Min Tun has always denied atrocities and crimes committed [by junta troops]. In that way, they are spreading their propaganda to the international community.

So, I would like to ask the international community not to trust their propaganda and instead listen to people on the ground and investigate if needed. We would also like to request that the international community takes more effective action against the Myanmar junta.

What is the political goal of the Arakan Army?

We have always vowed that our political ambition for Rakhine State to achieve a status that shouldn’t be less than a confederate. [The same level of autonomy as the Wa Self-Administered Division] At the end of the ongoing nation-wide operations – after we are done uprooting and annihilating the junta’s military – we hope that all ethnic groups in the country can unite more than ever. We believe that we can build mutual trust and cohesion. After we defeat the military dictatorship, we strongly believe that we can all eventually construct a better political system for the country.


This interview was previously published on The Irrawaddy.

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