“Designating the Arakan Army as Terrorists”
On March 23, 2020, Myanmar Government designated the Arakan Army (AA) and its political wing the United League of Arakan (ULA) as unlawful and terrorist organizations.
The announcement also stated, “the AA/ULA have caused serious losses of public security, lives and property, important infrastructures of the public and private sector, state-owned buildings, vehicles, equipment and materials.”
The designation has been expressed on web pages of several news agencies, such as the Washington Post, the Voice of America, the Irrawaddy, Radio Free Asia, the Diplomat, News Day 24, Las Vegas Sun, etc.
“War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity by the Myanmar Army”
The war between the Arakan Army and Myanmar military broke out in late 2018. Please take a look at the following events that occurred in late February and March, 2020 in the northern Arakan region.
- February 29, 2020: Five Muslim people including one child were killed in Bu Ta Lone village, Mrauk U Township under the artillery shellings. The same day 11 bodies of civilians whom were recently taken by Myanmar Army for interrogation were found in two different places.
- March 1, 2020: The Myanmar military indiscriminately attacked Kyauktan village, Rathidaung Township using both artillery shellings and airplane bombings. At least 24 houses were burned down in the attack.
- March 4, 2020: Human Rights Watch reported, “On February 29, five civilians were killed and at least eight others were injured in clashes between Myanmar forces and the Arakan Army near Mrauk-U city, according to media reports. An ethnic Rakhine nongovernmental organization estimated that at least 18 civilians were killed and 71 were injured during fighting in February, though the actual casualties could be higher because of the government’s mobile internet blackout has slowed the gathering of information.
- March 9, 2020: Heavy artillery fire and airstrikes killed two civilians and injured four others in Pwe Wone village in Paletwa Township.
- 21 people were killed and at least 35 others injured under artillery shelling and airplane bombing by the Myanmar military in Paletwa Township during the second week of March.
- March 15, 2020: At least 14 houses and about 2,000 baskets of rice in Tharsi village were burned down by Myanmar soldiers.
- March 20, 2020: At least between 160 and 200 houses were burned down by Myanmar soldiers in Tin Ma village, which is situated between Kyauk Taw and Paletwa. According to local victims, Myanmar soldiers shot into the village and forced people to run away from their homes. After the villagers left, they went into the houses and took valuable and useful possessions from the households before setting them on fire and more than 4,000 people have become homeless.
- March 29, 2020: Pharpro Village of Minbya Township was set on fire by the Myanmar Army. Twelve houses were burned down and two elderly villagers died as they were unable to outrun the flames.
- March 31, 2020: May Lwun Clinic in Minbya township of Arakan set on fire by the Myanmar Army.
- March 31, 2020: Khaing Mrat Kyaw, Chief Editor of the Narinjara News Agency was charged with crimes by the government because of interviewing with a spokesperson of the Arakan Army. Three reporters from the news agency were captured by Myanmar counter-terrorist authorities. Computers from the Narinjara News Agency were also seized by authorities when police forces in civilian clothing raided the agency’s office.
“Why is AA fighting?”
Arakan was an independent kingdom from about 3000 B.C. to 1784 when an ethnically Burmese king brutally invaded.
Before the International Court of Justice, to defend the Myanmar government from charges of genocide, Nobel Peace prize laureate and State Counselor of Myanmar Aung San Suu Kyi stated ‘The Arakan Army seeks autonomy or independence for Rakhine — or
Arakan as it was called — finding inspiration in the memory of the historic kingdom of Arakan’ on December 11, 2019 at The Hague.
Major General Twan Mrat Naing, the Commander in Chief of Arakan Army said in ‘The Way of Rakhitta’ (YouTube video clip), ” Every Arakanese has a dream in their heart one day they should become a free citizen of our fatherland. The land of Arakan is ours, our ancestors’ land. We must get this back into the hands of our people.”
“Creation of A Dark Zone”
The Internet shutdown in northern Arakan is now almost 290 days long, which is the longest Internet shutdown period in history. The incidents in Tharsi and many other villages were never reported by any news agencies due to this shutdown.
Amid the Internet shutdown, the websites of two Arakan based news agencies, Development Media Group (DMG) and Narinjara were blocked by Myanmar Army backed and state-owned mobile network operators.
More than 140,000 Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) are now living in extremely poor conditions in over 100 war refugee camps. These camps are facing overwhelming shortages of food, shelter, and medicine. The Myanmar government and military have heavily blocked most humanitarian support to these IDP camps.
More than 10,000 acres of paddy fields have been damaged in the year 2019 according to Arakan-based Narinjara News. With more systematic and strategic oppression, people inthe State of Arakan are to face starvation, especially as the monsoon season of late May-October arrives.
Even during the world’s serious COVID-19 pandemic, the Myanmar government has not considered the welfare of the people in the State of Arakan. The Myanmar military has been committing these crimes due to racial hatred and a sense of retribution.
On March 10, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar Yanghee Lee expressed the following:
“Rather than a nation that protects human rights, I observe rights violations that continue to routinely occur and a country that stands accused of the most serious crimes under international law.”
“Once again the international community is watching on as the Tatmadaw displays its disregard for human life and its contempt for the values of humanity.”
“I urge the international community most strongly to support the ongoing international accountability initiatives and ensure that victims are placed at the center of all of these efforts.”
Now the Burmese government has designated the Arakan Army as a terrorist organization. A precise definition of Terrorism is, “a deliberate attack on innocent civilians for political purposes.”
Another type of terrorism is “State Terrorism,” which exists when a government perpetrates terrorist acts on its own citizens.
In the events that resulted in civilian casualties in Arakan, the Myanmar military often places blame on the Arakan Army. In fact, soldiers of AA are sons and daughters of Arakanese people. They would never kill their mothers and fathers, their brothers and sisters. They would never burn down their families’ houses and buildings. The answer is obviously clear that there are countless unjust war crimes and indiscriminate attacks by the Myanmar military in the State of Arakan and beyond. The Myanmar military has caused serious losses of public security, lives, and property, important infrastructures of the public and private sector, buildings, vehicles, equipment and materials. Therefore the Myanmar military is, by definition, a State Terrorist organization.
“Why did Myanmar military designate AA as terrorists?”
The Arakan Army is a growing armed force that has gained support by most Arakanese people both inside and outside Arakan due to their brave actions, good organization, charismatic leadership and honest portrayal of the Arakanese people. To discourage this, any support for AA, from financial to verbal, has been designated as a terrorist activity by the Myanmar government.
Another significant reason is the significant losses by the Myanmar army on the battlefield even though they have been extensively and excessively using many resources, such as Army, Navy and Air Forces. Now, bombing and burning are both routine activities of the Myanmar military in Arakan.
Therefore, as a last resort to defeat the Arakan Army and demoralize the Arakanese people, Myanmar government has closed any and all outside access, killed or jailed any participants in Arakanese national movements, and used terrorist tactics themselves to force the Arakanese people into submission by any means necessary.
“Necessary Steps for Solving Problems in the State of Arakan”
In order to solve the problems between the Arakanese people and the Burmese military, as well as to accurately access the situation, the following steps are necessary:
• Reopen Internet access in the region
• Allow all domestic and international news agencies into the region
• Negotiate a Bilateral Peace Deal between the Arakan Army and the Burmese Military or Myanmar Government
• Allow neutral involvement of third-parties from the International Community, such as UN peacekeeping forces.
(Oo Thein Maung is editor of the Arakan International magazine.)
(As part of Easternlink’s intense focus on the escalating conflict in Myanmar’s Rakhine, we bring you an article by a Rakhine journalist on the way out of the crisis )