Myth and Reality of War in Rakhine State; Winner or Loser Judged by Their Own Way

Female fighter of Arakan Army in Rakhine jungle 

Sittway. April 19, 2020. 

Overview

Arakan Army and Myanmar army or Tatamadaw have been fighting in Rakhine for one and half years, hundreds of civilians killed and over fifteen hundred thousand displaced.  

At least 3,000 government security forces are killed including dozens of high ranking officers in the Arakan front.

At the beginning of the war, AA fought defensive positions in a small pocket of areas in deep north of Arakan and southwest of Chin states in 2015-18.

At the present days, AA has gradually advanced its troops to at least 10 townships including Ann, western command and control military base, and Gwa, a door step to the Irrawaddy Division, despite of the Tatmadaw vigorously reinforcing with 30,000 troops. 

AA shifts its original policy of fighting for greater autonomy to seeking for total independence on the 11th  Anniversary of the organization formation. But Tatamadaw iterates it is clearing terrorists. 

AA enjoys popular support of the local residents. It attacks the security forces by combination of  guerrilla and conventional tactics that humiliate Myanmar generals. 

On the other hand, Tatmadaw backed up by elected government carries out aggressive military operations and they believe they will win this war by resorting with jet fighters, helicopter gunships, navy, and artilleries.

On the other hand, AA promises it will deliver the dream of people, rebirth of a sovereign nation.

Will Tatmadaw be the winner? Will AA bring independence? Or will both parties agree for armistice? Judgement comes from nowhere but on their own way.

Myth

“We are winning the war. We are the winner,” said an Arakanese Buddhist novice in Bangladesh. 

The novice continues, “an AA fighter expends his shadow to 10 fighters in the fields and even more in the forests. That makes very confusion to the government soldiers in the battles. AA is like a ghost army, appear quickly and disappear suddenly, but you cannot catch them as they are like wind.” 

This legion of AA fighters and their battle skills as well as their victories go on in every village and even in towns, encouraging stories and light of hopes for the localists. 

An 85 years old woman backed up the story and said, “Our golden kingdom is glory again.” 

She collected dry fruits in her village and asked her grandson to pass it to the AA fighters. She worried AA might not have these kinds of foods in the jungle.

In fact, 75 percent of populations in Rakhine live in rural areas, close to the mountains and rivers where organic foods are available to them. 

The elder woman spends rest of her life in the very undeveloped and off road village. But she listened to the war stories from the young men occasionally. She compared the stories with what was touch in the British colonial and peaceful times and memory of oral history of former glorious kingdom where justice and freedom instituted. She believed Arakan Army would bring it back to the people. 

Not only the novice and the elderly shared the story of the invisible army, but also a Myanmar army officer who fought in Arakan last year and currently transferred to Shan State recited it.

The officer who had long conversations with our news reporters last year, we keep his name for confidential, said, “AA is winning the war. No one can stop it. Arakanese will have their own country. We have to carry our passports when we go to there.” 

The officer continues with oral historical myth and backgrounds, “The AA fighters are reborn from the Nine Cemetery in Mrauk U, former capital of Arakan Kingdom. They are ironmen, invisible, and dispensable.”

The Nine Cemetery he refers is the fallen royal Arakanese soldiers who were buried in the ground in Mrauk U after Burmese King Bodaw Maung Wine occupied the Arakan Kingdom 236 years ago. The king collected soils from nine cemeteries all over the Arakan provinces and covered the dead bodies and cursed the brave and skillful Arakanese soldiers would not be reborn for 200 years.

The officer said, “The cuss is over now. They all are reborn and joining the AA.” 

“I am instructed not to pronounce the name of AA commander General Tun Myat Naing but acronym as Number One. If we pronounce his name, definitely we were suffered in the battles,” He said. 

He explained how he and his troops encountered spectre in the forests and ghostly apparitions in the village when he and his troops were conducting patrols. 

“The entire forest and trees were shaking up shockingly and heard the noise of close range gunfire. Our soldiers reacted and started shooting their gun aimlessly. In a minute, it became very calm. It scared me a lot,” he said. 

He revealed, “When I woke up in the middle of the night with a big nightmare that I saw my soldiers were grabbed and their throats were cut by AA fighters. I was badly sweat.” 

He said he explained it to the Buddhist monk in the temple where he and his troop stayed. Then the monk called every soldier and recited Yadana Thok, Buddhist prayer for protection from the danger, and urged him to pray every night before he went to bed. 

“Now, I am safe here in Shan State for a while, but I am not happy because I get report everyday our soldiers from LID 33 are killed and I have to take care the widows,” he said.

Arakan Army statement backed up the fear of the government soldiers last year. It said artillery bases in northern fired their artilleries at the same times and in the same nights aimlessly even though there was no military clash. 

Not yet ending the myth of Arakan Army, very prominent lawyer Robert San Aung told the media during the interview there were many bad police officers who refused to arrest the rapists when the victims lodged police reports. "They should be sent to Arakan State for punishments," he said. 

Similarly, a woman yelled at the police officer, “You should go to Arakan, if you are that brave.”

The woman and her husband were stopped with their car by the police at the checkpoint near Mogok, very popular town of Burma ruby. She was very upset and asked the officer for legal ground why her car was stopped that went on oral fight. 

Still at large, the anecdote goes on among the wives of very high ranking military officers who admire the AA commander. 

“Tun Myat Naing is good speaker and very charismatic leader,” The officer wife in western command said. She continues, “He has controlled many parts of Rathedaung township.” 

There is a proverb in Rakhine as it says, “When a wood stub is consecrated by entire villagers, it becomes a tiger.” 

Reality

As United Nations said Myanmar army is carrying daily deadly aerial bombardments and many civilians were killed, mostly women and children. 

Arakan Information Center, a local based human rights organization monitoring the conflict, reports  377 civilians were killed, injured, and disappeared from the beginning of January to April 15 under the military operation.

Rakhine Ethnic Congress reported 157,291 IDPs were registered in February. The list does not include a 7,000 fresh IDPs in Ponnaygun township. 

Analysts predict there will be more civilian casualties and increased in coming weeks due to the air strikes and attacking villages, and IDPs will be reached to 200,000 in this dry season and continuing in raining season. 

Little humanitarian assistance is allowed to deliver to the camps. Some aid workers are harassed and even get arrested. 

Myanmar government classified AA as terrorist organization recently. That means Myanmar government declares war on Rakhine and international sympathizers and give license to the army to exterminate the people under the pretext of terrorist supporters. 

Internet is banned; electricity is cut off in three townships, Buthedaung, Maungdaw, and Rethadaung for 2 weeks already, and local media are crackdown and charged with terrorism laws. 

International community gives little lips service for rights violation. 

On the other hands, military strategists in Naypaytaw believe they are containing AA advancement by bombardments, setting fire the villages, killing civilians, and forced relocations. They assume AA is facing shortage of foods and water as well as fire power by cutting AA connection with the villagers.  

The generals determine by keeping these tactic of harassing the civilians, AA will be weaken because they see the root of the AA is it sticks on the people. By destructing the civil structures and the community, AA can run nowhere but surrender in long run. 

Contrarily, AA is growing its fighters and expending the troops to the south. At one point, AA commander says Myanmar troop can enter into the Arakan front as far as they can, but they cannot be pulled out.

What Next

De facto leader Aung San Suu shares the same view as the military generals do and said in her statement, “Ending this armed conflict will bring an end to the ongoing humanitarian situation of the local population in Rakhine state.” 

She did not explain how and when the war would end. 

The question is how long the people, one and half million with 200,000 IDPs and struck with poverty and shortage of foods, can go on for continuance and greater suffering.

And, how long it will take to bring the war to an end? 

Myanmar army says no negotiation with AA. Aarakan Amry says it will bring sovereignty to the people. None of these rhetoric in fact is reality. 

Myanmar army will never defeat AA, and AA will not win total war.

AA does not have weapons, logistics, financial, and men power to defeat one of the strongest army in southeast Asia. Nor the Tatmadaw has leverage and skill fighters to clear AA in the Arakan land. 

Then there will be  stalemate between these two actors. 

Only negotiation and dialogue can bring to end the war and restore peace in Arakan. But how?

Rakhine leaderships need to step up and build trust among the Rakhine people, government, Tatmadaw, and AA. They should create a fresh and innovative platform for dialogue.  

There is risk for the Rakhine leaderships, but there is more riskier for not making decision and acting swiftly. 

 It is right time the Rakhine leaderships should grab opportunity while seeking for equality and freedom.   

1 comment:

  1. It breaks my heart to see the suffering of Rakhine people everyday. The faster we can end this war, the better for the people, but, of course only if liberty and justice could be restored in Rakhine.

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