Myanmar’s government army has vowed to wipe out the Arakan Army (AA) in western Myanmar’s Rakhine state, charging the armed ethnic group with creating instability in the region, as state leaders prepare to hold a peace conference next week.
In an announcement issued Friday, the army said one commanding officer and several soldiers had been killed during clashes with the AA since Dec. 27.
The announcement comes as the Union Peace Conference is set to begin on Jan. 12 in the capital Naypyidaw to foster political dialogue between the government and armed ethnic groups and end armed conflicts.
Hostilities also have continued between government soldiers and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) in Kachin State, and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) in northern Shan State.
The government signed a so-called nationwide cease-fire agreement with eight of the country's 20 armed ethnic groups last October, but the pact did not include the AA, KIA or TNLA.
The Myanmar military said AA soldiers have been hiding in villages in Kyauktaw, Mrauk-U and Minbya townships, pretending to be civilians, while other AA troops had arrested seven people from Paletwa township in neighboring Chin state.
The AA has denied arresting the people, saying it was taking care of them for security reasons, and later released them.
The fighting forced 108 residents of Kyipyin village in Rakhine to flee their homes on Thursday, followed by another 111 on Friday, said Tin Aye Maung, the village administrator.
“They said they fled their village because they were frightened when they heard gunfire,” he told RFA’s Myanmar Service. “Some individuals and the township’s administrator have donated food for the refugees.”
Increased security checks
Because of the continued fighting, immigration officers, government authorities and the military are working together to step up security checks in Kyauktaw and Mrauk-U for guns and ammunition.
“We’re doing security checks because we found some weapons on a bus and truck in April,” a policeman who declined to give his name told RFA. “Now we tightened [security] and will do the checks regularly even after this period to stop the drug trade and the illegal migration of "Bengalis."
Myanmar’s government uses the term “Bengalis” to refer to the Muslim Rohingya minority group because it views them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, even though many have lived in the country for generations. The Rohingya minority, which was stricken from the country’s list of 135 officially recognized minorities in 1982, is not involved in the AA fight with the government.
Some 140,000 Rohingyas, who were displaced during communal violence with ethnic Buddhists in 2012, live in squalid camps in Rakhine state, while thousands of others have fled persecution in the Buddhist-dominated nation.
More than 250 people in total have fled their homes in Rakhine state due to fighting between government army and AA since December 27.
Government troops have clashed with the AA 15 times between Dec. 28 and Jan. 4 in Kyauktaw township, according to the state newspaper Global New Light of Myanmar, starting when army soldiers cleared the Ranchaung-Ru Chaung area, believing that the rebel soldiers were about to invade.
“The Tatmadaw [government army] has announced that it will continue to launch offensive attacks against AA forces until the area is cleared of all insurgents,” the report said.
Hundreds of locals protested against the conflict on Thursday in Mrauk-U and are planning to demonstrate again on Sunday, the Eleven Myanmar media group reported.
Reported By Tin Aung Khine and Min Thein Aung for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.