By Khaing Roe La and Myo Thiri Kyaw
The Tatmadaw on May 9 declared a unilateral ceasefire in force until August 31, but with the notable exception of “areas where terrorist groups declared by the government take positions.” The Arakan Army (AA) and the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) both fall under that designation, apparently excluding a large swath of western Myanmar from the peace overture (the ostensible aim of which is to facilitate efforts to combat the coronavirus pandemic).
With this part of Myanmar currently the country’s most conflict-ravaged — clashes between the warring parties have escalated in recent months — skepticism of the ceasefire’s efficacy and intent was a recurrent theme in DMG’s conversations with a handful of stakeholders, excerpts of which are compiled below.
U Maung Maung Soe (Political Analyst)
When the coronavirus was first discovered in Myanmar on March 23, the government declared the AA a terrorist organisation. However, the government held meetings of the COVID-19 Negotiation Committee with ethnic armed groups over the past few days.
I heard the AA offered to work together to fight COVID-19. But I have a bit of difficulty understanding the situation when the Tatmadaw announced that the area where there are clashes with the AA is not included in its ceasefire declaration.
The government has announced that they will cooperate with ethnic armed groups to fight COVID-19. But it is impossible to cooperate on a battleground. Because of that, the government’s cooperative activities to fight COVID-19 might conflict with the stipulations included in the Tatmadaw’s ceasefire agreement and the declaration of the AA as a terrorist organisation.
To conclude, the AA is not included in the Tatmadaw’s ceasefire at the moment. Arakan State is not included. Because of that, COVID-19 cooperation activities may disintegrate automatically. That is the problem of not stopping the ongoing war. The AA is the only group that has intensified war with the Tatmadaw since the end of 2018. With the rest of the ethnic armed groups, there has been only disputes over territory and a little bit of fighting.
The current intensifying battle in Myanmar is with the AA only. Because of that the AA is designated as a terrorist group. The war can’t be stopped without negotiation or cooperation, nor can there be cooperation to fight COVID-19.
Dr. Nyo Nyo Thin (Founder of Yangon Watch)
We welcome that the Tatmadaw has stopped the war for peace. However, if they give peace, they should give effectively, without exception. There is not such big conflict with the other armed groups, but with AA. The main reason why Myanmar cannot get peace is that there is war between the Tatmadaw and AA and it’s very bad.
If the Myanmar Tatmadaw wants to give peace to the people, restrictions should not be imposed. All armed groups must discuss peace. A powerful group should start negotiations. And a powerful group should be braver than the others.
Therefore, it should not offer peace by releasing a ceasefire declaration with exceptions. There should not be any exception, whether there is a ceasefire temporarily or forever. It should be done unconditionally.
Excluding those identified as terrorist organisations from the ceasefire declaration means not considering the people in the area. So, we must ask, why is AA fighting? We must ask that question.
As for the AA, it should offer to make peace when the Tatmadaw is interested in making peace. Only when both are interested in making peace, the state will be at peace. If not, only innocent people are harmed and killed off.
That’s why, if they really love the people or if they really want peace, both the Tatmadaw and the armed groups — the AA and the armed forces that accept AA — should start peace talks at the table for the sake of Arakanese people.
U Pe Than (Pyithu Hluttaw MP, Myebon Township, Arakan State)
The ceasefire is declared to provide help in preventing COVID-19. Previously, the Tatmadaw has declared ceasefires for peace in the country.
But the conflict-affected areas in northern Arakan State are excluded. The Tatmadaw said the ceasefire declaration does not include the areas where the Arakan Army exists. The virus has not infected among members of AA. However, the Tatmadaw needs to consider the people in northern Arakan State because people are living in the area where the terrorist group is taking positions. It needs to be clearly seen that the Tatmadaw’s ceasefire declaration is aimed to provide help in fighting COVID-19 and to prevent people from being infected by the deadly virus. The Tatmadaw’s declaration without including the AA’s area means punishing people, not the AA. Arakanese people see that their state is not included; they see the Tatmadaw intentionally excluded Arakanese people from the COVID-19 prevention measures. I want to say the government does not have genuine goodwill for all people because the virus can infect throughout Myanmar. It should not exclude Arakan State from COVID-19 prevention measures. The exclusion of war-affected areas from the ceasefire declaration does not mean punishing the AA, but rather neglecting people in northern Arakan State.
U Soe Htet (Minister for Municipal Affairs, Electricity and Industry, Chin State government)
The ARSA is doing their activities in Arakan State and Paletwa Township in Chin State. The AA is also conducting their activities in Paletwa. The Tatmadaw has already announced that it would conduct operations to restore regional stability.
Paletwa Township was a ‘white’ area previously. Now, it is a ‘black’ area. The Tatmadaw is trying to restore the township as a white area, so as a resident, I have nothing to comment on the act of the Tatmadaw. I know the Tatmadaw keep conducting regional clearance operations.
Paletwa borders India and Bangladesh. The AA is using Paletwa to cross borders. So, the Tatmadaw is trying to conduct regional clearance operations without declaring a ceasefire for Paletwa Township and northern Arakan State.
U Yan Kyaw (Political Analyst)
I saw that the Office of the Commander-in-Chief of the Defence Services released a statement announcing the declaration of ceasefire for eternal peace. It includes eight points. We need to consider the No. 3 point.
It is difficult to blame the Tatmadaw because it includes the exception and it said the declaration of ceasefire is made in line with international standards. The No. 3 point said, “… except areas where terrorist groups declared by the government take positions.” So, we cannot conclude it means the AA only.
There are four groups that did not sign bilateral ceasefires. They are the KIA [Kachin Independence Army], AA, TNLA [Ta’ang National Liberation Army] and MNDAA [Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army]. So, we have to think the exception means the regions of the armed groups that did not sign bilateral ceasefires.
It depends on the eye of the beholder. For AA, they [view themselves as] working for Arakanese people through armed struggle. The Tatmadaw see the AA as terrorists.
Generally, we must welcome the unilateral ceasefire, but feel sorry for the exception, especially during the COVID-19 outbreak because the disease will not discriminate.
Anyone can be infected by the disease. There is no vaccine and treatment for the deadly virus. So, people from all areas need to be careful and try to prevent the spread of the disease.
Additionally, peace cannot be built by temporarily ceasing fire. It can be achieved by negotiating at a table.