Essence of Arakan Army Formation, Rationale of Armed Struggle, and What Next

Arakanese villagers hiding in the forest when Myanmar solider entering into their village

Essence of Arakan Army Formation, Rationale of Armed Struggle, and What Next 
Bangkok, 7 November 2019

Essence of Arakan Army Formation:
Google chat box was alerted and seen a message, “Bother…I am on the run. I get to run to the border.”

It was the summer of 2009, and the chat box message was from Ko Tun Myat Naing, present time Arakan Army Commander General Tun Myat Naing.

Myanmar spies were looking for him and his friends to arrest, suspecting on recruiting young men to form an armed organization. One of his friends was arrested in Kyauk Myaung ward in Yangon when they ran an English speech class that led him for hot pursuit.

His wife gave birth a baby girl for only two months when he was on the run. My concern was his new born baby girl and his wife survival when she needed for his support, mentally and physically. 

He asked me how he would be able to get supports from Karen National Union (KNU) and New Mon State Party (NMSP) if he reached to Thai-Myanmar border. My answer was somehow discourageable. 

I told him NMSP had signed ceasefire agreement with the military junta, State Peace and Development Council (SPDC). It was difficult for him to get support from the Mon. KNU would be vehemently opposed by Arakan Liberation Party (ALP), an Arakanese armed organization that has allied with and sit in the Karen state for decades.

A couple days later, I got his last message from Myitkyina , the capital city of Kachin State. He wrote me he would not be able to communicate for sometimes, and said, “Good bye.” 

Three years later, I met him in Thailand when he came to attend an ethnic conference in 2012. We longingly hugged each other and joy with excitement for seeing again. I noticed his personality he was firm, confident, and full of dream with modest political and military strategies.

At one point, he told me it was easy to penetrate his fighters into Arakan State. I wondered how he would do it since our modern Arakan revolution history showed three attempted were fail.  All leaders were killed in misery. 

First one was Arakan Independent Organization (AIO) led by university professor San Kyaw Tun. He was killed by Myanmar army ambush in Chin State in 1970s when his troop were going back to Arakan. Similarity, Khaing Moe Lun, leader of ALP, was killed along with his fighters in the battle on India-Chin State order areas.  Lastly, Bo Razar, commander of Arakan Army, was shot and killed by India army in Adman sea along with his Karen colleagues in 1998. 

For now, over 7,000 young and well trained fighters of AA have been operating in Rakhine State and fighting against the Myanmar army in a dozen of townships, covering one and half million rural people. 

Rationale of Armed Struggle: 
Ko Tun Myat Naing’s dream is always big and interesting. First time, I met him on Thai-Myanmar border in 2004. At that time, he was working with Arakan Students and Youths Congress (AASYC) for Shwe gas movements, a huge amount of gas with billions dollar worth found in Arakan offshore and tried to pipe it out to China. He was collecting fact of rights abuses and land confiscations by the Myanmar government in Kyaukphyu. In his heart, he felt hurts because Arakakn people were left out of benefits sharing. 

Then, I met him again at the Arakan National Council (ANC) Conference in New Delhi in 2006. I vividly recalled at that time he complained me I was not a supporter of armed struggle but political solution. But his interested in ANC was very grim later on. 

Arakan National Council was formed with armed organizations, political parties, students, youths, women, workers, and Buddhist monk associations in 2004 in India. Its aim was a preparation of a united platform to have dialogue with Myanmar government for federation and self-rule. Its theme was, “From ANC unity to emerge Arakan National Congress with all walks of life, and then from Arakan National Congress to form an Arakan National Government in order to manage the state affairs as self-rule under the federated nation states. 

The news of ANC formation attracted a huge attention in Arakan State by youths, students, politicians, and rural populations. They hoped ANC might fulfill their historic request for freedom and prosperity. They had never witnessed such a big unity with all armed organizations and civil societies and stood up together. They believed it must be something changing in history. 

Several educated young men came to India-Myanmar border where one of the ANC member’s armed groups had a military outpost. They came from Sittway and wanted to get military training and guns. Some stayed for years and waiting for ANC approval. They told the council almost every young man and woman was interested in for armed fight against the Burmese and that was the only option to regain the freedom. 

Ko Tun Myat Naing was not a short one giving attention on the ANC. He was a university student and general secretary of Rakhine student union at that time. He and his friends worked very hard and recruited over three thousand students to join ANC if it called for armed struggle. 

Members of ANC split in the second conference on the agenda of formation of an armed wing. ALP opposed the idea of formation when Democratic Party of Arakan (DPA), Nationalities United Party of Arakan (NUPA), and AASYC agreed. Arakan League for Democracy (ALD) in exile sit neutral ground on the debate. 

He observed the conference resolution and felt exhausted on it.

ANC was broken up into two groups in 2009, disagreement in political leaderships and resignation of ALP from the council. Now, it is almost nonexistent. 

Ko Tun Myat Naing and his friend went back to Myanmar after the conference by land routes and shortly stopped by in Kachin State where one of his colleagues had already had contacted with Kachin Independent Organization (KIO). 

Liza Calls: 
Three years later and when ANC was weak, he showed up in Liza, the headquarter of KIO. Then he and his colleagues of nine started rationalizing on formation of Arakan Army. 

Along with 29 members, he found the AA in 2009. Now, it has 10,000 regular volunteer fighters and 10,000 reserved fighters, some remaining in Kachin and Northern Shan State.  

It was an interesting time in Myanmar for peace talks. The political landscape had been changed in Myanmar in 2010. SPDC transferred power to the elected government under the leadership of President Thein Sein. He opened peace talks with the ethnic armed organizations in 2012.

Arakan Army actively participated in the peace talks, but it was excluded to sign the nationwide ceasefire agreement in 2015. Then, AA had no other choices but to face the harsh treatment and discrimination by the government and army.  AA leaders made double efforts to recruit more young men and women for their army. 

AA sent more troops to India-Burma border in 2016. One of the remarkable fights was broken out in thick jungles and in high mountains in Taw Phya Chung area in the summer of 2018, between Kyauktaw and Pannaygun township in the north. Some local people told at least 800 Myanmar soldiers were killed during the weeklong fights. This defeated news of Myanmar army separated the entire state so quickly. People reacted with amazed and confident.

One of the law makers, who did not want to mention his name, explained the event as Russians were defeating Germans in Stalingrad. He said Rakhine people felt like, “…we can kill Burmese soldiers. They die with our bullets. They are no longer immortal men we used to afraid of. We get power; we get AK47.” 

On the Peace Talks: 
Gen. Tun Myat Naing is proactive man of peace. He actively participated in a numbers of united effort and meetings that were preparing for peace talks and political dialogue with Myanmar government. He firmly stood on federalism. 

The preparation meeting later led to Arakan National Conference in Kyaukphyu in 2014.  AA deputy commander Dr. Nyo Tun Aung and Col. Kyaw Han attended in the conference. 

That conference definitely opened up wider political eyes for the Arakan people. It proved it when Arakan National Party (ANP) won landslide victory in the 2015 national election. People hope it might be able form a state government and got self-rule as ANC had laid down its strategy of self-rule. But Aung San Suu Kyi picked up her own loyal man U Nyi Pu and put ANP aside.  

I clearly recalled an event in Thailand in 2012.  After the meeting was concluded with unanimous decision that all parties in the meeting agreed “Federalism” was every negotiator core aim for peace talks and political dialogue with the Myanmar government, we had a good dinner party at the hotel in Chiagng Mai. Everyone danced with joy like they forgot all environment surrounding because we achieved all parties united on federalism.

Gen. Tun Myat Naing gave a speech from the stage and thanked to ALP Chairman Khaing Ray Khaing for his approval for federalism.  He said, “I will jump out of the window and kill myself if Arakan will get independence tomorrow that much I love my nation. But at right now, we have to stick on federalism that you (Khaing Ray Khine) agree with us for now even though you have stood up for independence for the rest of your life. Thank you, and I salute you.”

Everyone stood up and applauded for several minutes after his speech. 

During the meeting, we had formed a national unity making committee and that committee held a number of parallel meetings. First work was to organize for national conference, and the second coordination was to unite all armed organizations under one banner while negotiating peace with the government.

Gen. Tun Myat Naing actively participated in some meetings and helped out for unity effort. But at that time, splinter of ANC did not participate in any meeting but separately negotiated peace with the government under the membership of United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC). 

In all parallel efforts, only national conference was successful and able to hold it in Kyauk Phyu. The rest were fail. 

ALP did not agree to form a united negotiation team under one banner, but it wished to allay with AA only. Then ALP signed bilateral ceasefire agreement with the government in 2015 without AA. Some observer said ALP played with a game whereas Gen. Tun Myat Naing was pushed on the corner of Arakan political theater and peace process. 

The rest, DPA and NUPA, had no place for the peace talks and political dialogue. All the efforts to form a collative dialogue team for 3 years and money were wasted but learned a bad lesson of disunity. 

Materialistic Figure of Tatmadaw: 
Before AA was kicked out of the ceasefire agreement, I had given several options to Myanmar government. First, AA could be one of the good partners to help people and the government in transition time if it was allowed to participate in political dialogue process. Second, AA could be a border guard unit and could work with the government security forces. And the third, government should let them all come back to Rakhine State and provided a territory where they could stay and work with the people for infrastructure and social development projects.

But the government came up with a number of reasons. First reason was that AA was a newcomer and formed it during democratically elected government and transitional times; the second thing was AA members were workers in Jade mines and recruited. Third reason was that AA’s boss was KIO and when KIO signed the ceasefire agreement, AA would be kicked out of Kachin state and no place to run; forth, Tatmadaw could fight AA in Rakhine land very easily because it was unlike Kachin, Shan, and Karen states that are close to China and Thailand borders. 

In my mind, it went like a shocking moment the leaders of military and the government, mostly Burmese, were judging on materialistic figure. They did not realize how deepest pain of heart the Rakhine people felt in neglected for long times. It is too hurt in their memory of oppression, marginalization, and exploitation. These gross unacceptance of central rule and strongest resentment of injustice resembled the finest opportunity for AA.

What Next:
I had a chance to visit to the fighting ground in Pan War, yellow flower, in Bangladesh and near the Rakhine border in 2007. There was a small mountain called Dar Moe Taung, knife shell mountain it is meant, where Arakanese fighters overcame the Burmese troops and their brave and famous knight namely Maha Bandula, commander-in-chief of the Royal Burmese Force, in 1823. The battle was known as Pan War and Ramu war. 

Pan War and Ramu provinces were parts of the Arakan Kingdom in 18 Century and later became parts of East India under the British rule. These villages are now under Bangladesh. 

An elderly man from the village told me how Mahar Bandula was defeated. The Arakanese forces led by Prince Shwe Bam showed up his troops on hillside when other forces were hiding in Dar Moe Taung. General Bandula confronted the visible troops. Shwe Bam attacked the Burmese from the mountain and behind. The Burmese troops were heavily suffered and broken the formation. Then Mahar Bandula withdrew his troops quickly and went back to Danubyu to defend the royal army base. The British and Arakan combine force attacked Danubyu, and he was killed in the battle on April 1, 1825. 

Similarly, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, commander-in-chief of Myanmar Armed Force, is defeated in Arakan State as his hero Maha Bandula happened while confronting with the Arakanese fighters. 

Myanmar Time published a story on November 6 by army spokesperson Zaw Min Tun quotes. He admitted Myanmar army could not win the war against AA. He said the army would easily defeat AA if it was regular formation and had bases in the mountains. But AA members were mixed with the villagers and town people. At the same time, the army had to concern international laws, humanitarian laws, and human rights and that was why it could not achieve its goal even though the army has been fighting for almost one year he said. 

His revelation is true fact that Myanmar army is losing war in Arakan front. Local observers estimated over 3,000 soldiers were killed including many high ranking officers. Air supports and navy forces are also ineffective.

However, the commander-in-chief is still arrogant and refusing to admit the defeated. 

According to reliable sources, Myanmar army is practicing Russian made jet fighters in Meiktila. The jets will be used to bomb in Arakan hills in this dry season. The army will increase six to eight jet fighters, adding up three to five more jets in the operation. They will use fire bombs to burn down thick forests and trees in the mountains. Then the ground forces will attack on AA bases. 

Military analysts doubt the massive bomb campaigns will impact on AA but inviting international cretinism and violation of Bangladeshi and Indian air boundaries. 

On the other hand, AA is preparing to defend the heavy attacks and will hold all the grounds. They will keep hit-and-run tactic and guerrilla warfare to make Myanmar forces impossible to advance.

Election in Limbo: 
Myanmar government and NLD will be busy with preparation for 2020 national election. Let the army alone handle the military operation. 

On the other hand, AA wants the election discontinue, especially in the northern constituencies where the armed clashes are persistent. It can show off influence of power on the central government and get international attention. 

Election laws has a clause that the election commission has power to cancel the ballots when voters are danger and insecure.

Some political parties are concerned the election cancelation is bad for all, due the fighting between Myanmar army and AA. 

But local people are not interested in the election. They think it will not change anything since 2008 constitution is still in place. President will pick up a loyal man from the winner party, mostly from Burman dominated party. 

However, ANP believes it will win majority seats in the northern Arakan if the election is held. They believe there is an opportunity to bargain power sharing and formation of a state government. 

For Myanmar government, holding free and fair election in Arakan State is a test. If the government could not carry out the election, its credibility was questionable. It would be a political epidemic to other conflicting regions such as Shan north and Kachin north. 

Either United Nations (UN) or Humanitarian Dialogue (HD) can come up with lists of options including three months unilateral ceasefire agreement in the election periods and guarded by international observation volunteers on the ballots. Buddhist monks and respectable Rakhine elderlies can also go up in the middle for election period and a short ceasefire agreement and allow only the local volunteers to guard the ballots along with the election commission. 

The best solution is to make ceasefire agreement with AA before the election and let the IDPs return to their villages. For this, NLD government has to work harder to achieve peace. 

There is no way military solution will help peaceful election in the Arakan State. The people have already determined they will face all kinds of hardship and war circumstances unless they achieve the goal of greater autonomy and natural resources sharing. 

If the NLD government is fail to act quickly in order to produce a pragmatic solution of having peace through dialogue, AA will step up and declare its own administration as semi government in its held territories. Then, more complication will be looming and creating political chaos.

Note Passing. The author of this article is Nyi Nyi Lwin and Executive Director of Arakan Think Tank and Arakan Information Center and Chief Editor of Arakan News. 


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