Arakan Army Eclipsing Government in Administering Myanmar’s Rakhine State Amid Cease-fire

Residents say the AA is more effective than the government, which is ‘out of touch’ with the region.
2021.08.23
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Arakan Army Eclipsing Government in Administering Myanmar’s Rakhine State Amid Cease-fire Major General Tun Myat Naing (R), commander-in-chief of the Arakan Army, and Nyo Tun Aung (L), the AA's second-in-command, arrive for a dinner commemorating the 30th anniversary of peace-building efforts in Pangkham, capital of Wa self-administered region, in Myanmar's eastern Shan state, April 16, 2019.
RFA

The ethnic Arakan Army (AA) has been beefing up its administrative and judiciary mechanisms in western Myanmar’s Rakhine state during the past nine months of a cease-fire negotiated with the army before the military coup, but the junta is now reinforcing troop levels in the region in response, according to sources in the area.

On Aug. 1, the AA announced that the people of Rakhine state can now report all crimes and land disputes, as well as other legal issues, to its political branch, the United League of Arakan (ULA).

The move came exactly six months after Myanmar’s military seized power from the democratically elected government and embarked on a campaign of brutal repression against anti-junta protests, killing at least 1,013 civilians and arresting 5,821, according to the Bangkok-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP).

The announcement also came nine months after the AA negotiated a November 2020 cease-fire with the military, which has remained in effect despite the junta launching offensives against other ethnic armies and anti-junta People’s Defense Force (PDF) militias in the country’s other border regions since its Feb. 1 coup.

Pe Than, a former lawmaker for the Arakan National Party (ANP), told RFA’s Myanmar Service that the people of Rakhine trust the AA to govern because the national judiciary is “out of touch.”

“The ULA/AA is the only entity that deals with criminal cases in the region. In such a situation, when the government cannot do anything, the rule of law is ineffective and the ULA/AA has had to take responsibility for everything,” he said.

“It’s happening in many places. The government is out of the picture.”

Pe Than said that the AA has demonstrated that it can handle the administrative needs of the Rakhine people, and their trust in the ethnic army is growing.

Saw Maung Win, a senior citizen living in Rakhine’s Rathedaung township, said the AA took over administration of the area when the cease-fire went into effect and that crime in the region had since dropped significantly.

“It’s working. When there were crimes in the villages, the police [from the township] would come and build the cases but were not able to take them to court,” he said.

“Since the government’s authority did not extend to the rural areas, the ULA was the one that dealt with the cases, and it is now up to their court to make decisions against guilty parties. The ULA/AA has done well, and crimes are now greatly reduced.”

Residents of Rakhine told RFA that the AA now maintains its own courts and tribunals, lawyers, judges and jails.

At the same time, the AA has held training workshops for the agriculture and livestock sectors in the region and even provided material assistance.

A resident of Ponnagyun township who filed a case at a ULA court told RFA the AA-administered courts do not suffer from delays like those of the government.

“There are always delays when dealing with government courts,” said the resident, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“Now that the ULA/AA is in power, we can go to their courts and have justice served. When I filed a complaint at a ULA/AA court, both the plaintiff and the defendant had to take the stand and it only took two days. The case was over so quickly. I think I received justice and both sides were satisfied.”

Inclusive governing

AA Commander-in-Chief General Tun Myat Naing told U.S.-based Arakan Media on Aug. 15 that his army had achieved 75 percent of its “revolutionary role” in Rakhine state, part of which is administration.

He noted that the AA is also seeking to include Rakhine state’s Rohingya Muslim community, which accounts for the second largest ethnic group in the state’s population of 3.2 million people after ethnic Rakhines.

Lar Lar Myar, a prominent ethnic Rohingya Muslim from Buthidaung, told RFA he welcomed the AA announcement.

“When the [majority ethnic Bamar] were ruling [Rakhine state], our people faced discrimination and were never allowed to participate in any way, whether it be in civil service or in defense or in internal affairs. And we were never allowed to take any training courses,” he said, referring to Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) government, which was deposed by the military.

“We are very happy that the Arakan Army will now provide training to all of our people together. We accept them. Now, young people are registering, although the AA hasn’t yet spoken directly to us. But we are compiling a list because of the AA commander-in-chief’s announcement. We are making the list in advance so that it will be ready when AA comes.”

Lar Lar Myar said that a liaison office for the Rohingya and AA had been established, adding that the state judiciary under the AA has “acted fairly, without discrimination on the basis of race or ethnicity.”

The mostly Muslim Rohingya were the target of a brutal military crackdown in Rakhine state in August 2017 that caused around 745,000 members of the minority group to flee to neighboring Bangladesh, where they continue to live in sprawling displacement camps. Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya still reside in Rakhine state, which borders Bangladesh on the eastern coast of the Bay of Bengal.

Attempts by RFA to contact AA leaders for comment about how they view Myanmar’s shadow National Unity Government (NUG) and its associated PDF militia went unanswered. But General Tun Myat Naing wrote in an April 16 post on Twitter that while his army was invited to participate, it chose not to because “we maintain our own stance.”

The junta has been reinforcing troops in Rakhine state since this month’s AA announcement, residents told RFA, including in townships such as Rathedaung and Buthidaung that have seen heavy fighting during two years of war with the national army, as well as in the capital Sittwe.

Among the measures the military has taken are boosting late-night household inspections and maintaining lists of out-of-state visitors, they said.

But despite tensions between the AA and the military in Rakhine state, residents told RFA that it is unlikely fighting will resume.

The hostilities in northern Rakhine and adjacent Chin state killed 266 civilians and injured 576 others between December 2018 and mid-2020, according to a tally by RFA’s Myanmar Service.

Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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