Myanmar Military, Arakan Army Leaders Held Online Chat Last Month, Says AA

2020-12-02
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Myanmar Military, Arakan Army Leaders Held Online Chat Last Month, Says AA A press release from Myanmar’s rebel Arakan Army detailing an online conference call with the national military late last month to discuss elections and food aid in Rakhine state, Dec. 2, 2020.
Photo: RFA

Senior leaders of Myanmar’s military and the rebel Arakan Army held an online conference call late last month to discuss elections and food aid in Rakhine state, contacts aimed at “building trust” during a de facto ceasefire in the western state, a spokesman for AA told RFA on Wednesday.

The Nov. 25 online talks, revealed by the AA but not confirmed by the military, came amid efforts since Nov. 8 national elections to put an end to a two-year-long war in Rakhine state between rebel troops and government forces that has killed more than 300 civilians and displaced about 226,000 others.

Leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her ruling National League for Democracy’s election victory last month was followed by gestures toward peace talks from the powerful military, and three weeks without fighting in Rakhine state despite the absence of formal ceasefire in that state’s war-torn northern townships.

Khine Thukha, spokesman for the AA, which is fighting for more autonomy for ethnic Rakhines, confirmed the video chat between Rakhine war adversaries to RFA’s Myanmar Service.

“AA top leaders discussed three agenda items, with the Myanmar military’s top leaders” he said, without mentioning names on either side.

The AA and army peace talks delegates discussed holding elections “in a timely manner, in the townships where elections were canceled,” and mutual assurances of “the safe transport of food supplies and medicines” townships in the conflict zone on Rakhine state and adjacent Chin state,” said Khine Thukha.

“Number three is to sustain the mutual trust that been built,” he told RFA.

Days after the Nov. 8 elections, the military unveiled a permanent five-member Peace Talks Committee to negotiate with rebel armies, and voiced support for the AA’s call to hold elections in Rakhine state districts where voting was controversially cancelled last month over security concerns.

Voting was cancelled entirely in nine Rakhine townships, and in more than 100 wards of other townships, leaving 1.2 million out of 1.6 million total registered voters in the state unable to cast ballots.

Khine Thukha said the online talks were only preliminary discussions and as a next step, the AA and the military are negotiating through the middle men to meet in person.  

 RFA’s repeated attempts to seek comment on the AA’s statement from military spokesman Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun received no reply as of Wednesday. He did mention the video conference at a Nov. 27 news conference, where he described recent developments as creating “very good conditions” and called two weeks without fighting as “a big deal.”

Khine Thukha said AA also called on the army to reopen Rakhine roads closed by the military to allow passenger and goods movement, and to protect civilians in any future combat.

The AA also urged the military to avoid using the term “terrorist organization” to describe the Arakan forces, a group of some 7,000 fighters formed in 2009.

The government declared the AA an illegal organization and terrorist group in March – a designation that will have to be removed to advance talks.

 “This is the time we are building trust. These terms are not helpful to trust building. If we genuinely want to see the peace, both sides should be using the terms that could contribute to the peace agreement,” Khine Thukha said of the terrorist label.

Reported by Nayrein Kyaw and Soe San Aung for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Paul Eckert.

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