Written by Min Htee 

The Arakan Army (AA), which has controlled much of Arakan State since an informal ceasefire with the Myanmar military was reached in November 2020, issued a statement on December 17, 2021. The statement warned the public that nefarious activities were taking place in Arakan State, leading to sectarian tensions, and highlighted five recent developments. 

The informal ceasefire between the military and Arakan Army ended two years of fighting in Arakan State and was reached before the military coup on February 1. The Myanmar military’s two-year offensive aimed to eradicate the Arakan Army, with more than 4,000 clashes between the two sides. The Arakan Army then took the lead in establishing a peaceful area, in part by not participating in anti-junta activities during the post-coup period. 

The Arakan Army is still in control of much of Arakan State after the cessation of hostilities with the Myanmar military. Efforts were being made to build trust between different ethnic groups in Arakan State, and a parallel judiciary was created in 2021 to resolve suspicions between ethnic groups due to previous conflicts, and to bring justice to those seeking it outside of the court system under military rule. 

The Arakan Army is stepping up its efforts to build public trust in Arakan State. The Arakan Army is gaining the trust of other ethnic groups in Arakan State, and is systematically building coexistence despite the differences in Arakan State. We have seen some conflicts that undermine the rule of law in Arakan State. The Arakan Army will be responsible for the security of the Arakanese people, the December 17 statement said. The AA’s statement noted that bundles of paddy were recently set on fire in Mrauk-U and Kyaukphyu townships. 

An employee from the General Administration Department was killed on December 23, one week after the Arakan Army issued its statement. It needs to be examined whether there is a group deliberately trying to provoke racial/ethnic conflict or whether the killing was a matter of personal feuding. 

Arakan State has arguably been the most conflict-ridden region of Myanmar over the past decade. In 2012, sectarian clashes erupted in Ramree Township following the rape and murder of a woman. As a result of this history, Arakan State has attracted worldwide attention, and for many people displaced by the 2012 violence, the situation has not yet been resolved and the problem has shifted to a more sensitive level. Resettlement of displaced persons, mental and physical rehabilitation, and justice remain elusive for many people to this day. Some Muslims are held in confinement in Arakan State, and others are punished for traveling, violating their right to freedom of movement.

Before the 2012 conflict could be properly resolved, the Myanmar military in 2017 launched attacks on Muslims, which it described as “clearance operations” that were justified after a Muslim attack on 30 police outposts in Maungdaw Township. During the clearance operations, more than 700,000 Muslims from northern Arakan State were forced to flee to Bangladesh, and to date no resettlement and repatriation process has taken hold. 

The Arakan Army has been active in Arakan State since 2015 and grew in strength in 2018, with fighting in Arakan State beginning in late 2018. In 2019, heavy fighting broke out between the Arakan Army and the Myanmar military, and more than 300 civilians were killed and many more were injured or detained in prisons. 

Since the military seized power on February 1, Arakan State has been a surprisingly stable corner of Myanmar, a country otherwise engulfed in chaos.  

It is clear that the Arakan Army is guiding Arakan State in a step-by-step manner through the “Way of Rakhita”, and is leading the way in modern Arakan politics. The Arakan Army has been working to alleviate conflict-caused hardship in Arakan State, in part by replanting farmland that had not been farmable due to the two years of fighting, and working with allied forces to liberate and stabilise those who have been displaced by the conflict. 

Successive dictators have seemed to think that Arakan State is a politically sensitive place and a good place to create conflict. Preventing a recurrence of conflicts like those seen in the past is a matter of conscience for Arakanese people today. 

Arakan State is currently under the control of the Arakan Army, and the Arakanese people still fully support the political direction and leadership of the ethnic armed group. During this time, everyone needs to be careful, both personally and ideologically, and work for the rule of law. The Arakan Army has announced that it will establish an Arakan State confederation, and is systematically cultivating an Arakanese politics that ensures stability, security and the rule of law. 

The Arakan Army is pursuing a different form of politics, and the chief of the ethnic armed group said in an interview that, “Our revolution is to reclaim losses.” The Arakan Army is building administrative capacity, justice and peace in Arakan State, but the government is still active and the military is expanding its presence. There have been no formal political talks, according to an interview with the chief of the Arakan Army. 

The Myanmar military has not yet withdrawn its positions at some pagodas in Arakan State, and “road repairs” by junta soldiers and police along the route to the Sandawshin Pagoda in Pauktaw Township led to a shortage of pilgrims at the pagoda festival this year. The military coup in February has destabilised the country’s economy and politics, and even though Arakan State has been relatively peaceful in the post-coup period, provocations by either the military or Arakan Army could upend that peace at any time. 

The Arakan Army, which grew exponentially during the fighting with the Myanmar military, has been active in almost all of Arakan State’s townships.  

In the days and months ahead, there may be sectarian and religious incitement, and the people of Arakan state need to be especially vigilant and work together to address these concerns. Arakan State remains a tinderbox that can be ignited at any time. The tenuous peace that has largely prevailed since November 2020 needs to be actively maintained, and the desired future for Arakan State can only be achieved if its people carefully cooperate with one another. 

Therefore, I would like to say that it is necessary for all people, organisations and communities to focus on the Arakan issue, which must be holistically resolved to prevent future ethnic conflict.

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