Locals worry fighting may resume in Arakan due to escalating tensions between military and AA

Locals are worried that fighting could resume in Arakan State as tensions between the Myanmar military and the Arakan Army (AA) have shown signs of escalating in recent days. 

By DMG 21 May 2022

DMG Newsroom
21 May 2022, Sittwe 

Locals are worried that fighting could resume in Arakan State as tensions between the Myanmar military and the Arakan Army (AA) have shown signs of escalating in recent days. 

After two years of often-intense fighting, Myanmar’s military and the AA entered into an unofficial ceasefire arrangement in November 2020. The United League of Arakan (ULA), the political wing of the AA, has used the peacetime to expand a parallel administration that it has been working to establish for years, including a judiciary, revenue department and public security offices. 

“I don’t know where to flee in case of [renewed] conflict. We are planning to return home from the displacement camp to rebuild our lives, but we are facing financial difficulties,” Daw Thein Win Yin, an IDP from Mrauk-U’s Lekka village, told DMG. 

The village of Lekka was burnt down in May 2020 during the previous military conflict, but most local residents have since been allowed to return home. Daw Thein Win Yin said she doesn’t want fighting to flare up again because, since the end of hostilities and her home return, she has been able to earn a living in her own village. 

“IDPs have to repair their homes as the rainy season approaches. If there are military tensions, there is no way for the IDPs to flee,” said Ko Aung Htay, an IDP from Yan Aung Myay displacement camp in Buthidaung Township. 

If fighting breaks out, the flow of commodities will be further delayed and affected populations will face food shortages, locals further worry. Residents also raised human rights concerns as freedom of movement in the area could be lost and arbitrary interrogations could increase. 

“When commodity prices rise, it is difficult for us to earn a living. IDPs will be in trouble if the displacement camps face such difficulties. If something happens in the IDP camps, there is no other way for the IDPs to escape,” he added. 

Even as tensions have risen in recent days, no fighting has taken place between the Myanmar military and the Arakan Army (AA), but locals have expressed concern about gunfire heard emanating from military bases in Mrauk-U and Kyauktaw townships. 

“I am worried that innocent people will be injured by gunfire and locals will be arrested and interrogated by military personnel when clashes break out,” said Ko Kyaw Naing Htay, a resident of Sittwe. 

With the AA expanding its administrative apparatus in Arakan State, the regime has reportedly stepped up visits to villages in rural areas over recent months, asking people specifically whether they have ties to the AA. It has also detained a number of villagers over their alleged ties to the AA, a particularly sensitive change in law enforcement tactics given that the AA was removed from the regime’s list of terrorist groups in March 2021. 

The AA has warned that clashes could take place at any time in Arakan State due to growing military tensions with the regime. The Arakanese ethnic armed group has also advised civilians to be extra careful when travelling near areas where the Myanmar military is stationed. 

Speaking at a regime press conference on May 19, Myanmar junta spokesman Major-General Zaw Min Tun told the AA not to blame Myanmar’s military if conflict does arise again in Arakan State, and suffering among Arakanese people ensues. 

AA spokesman U Khaing Thukha rejected that premise in remarks made over the weekend, responding to the junta spokesman’s comments.