By Ajit Kumar Singh
March 13, 2019
On March 10, 2019, Arakan Army (AA) insurgents attacked a boat, carrying 14 policemen, at Kardi Creek in Yathedaung Township in the Rakhine State. Though the police boat sank, 13 of the policemen on board managed to return to safety. One policeman was reported injured and missing.
On March 9, 2019, AA insurgents attacked the Yotayoke Police Outpost in Ponnagyun Township of Rakhine State killing nine policemen. One policeman was reported missing after the attack. Colonel Win Zaw Oo, head of the Tatmadaw’s (military’s) Western Region Command, noted, “We believe the AA intends to continue attacking smaller police outposts that have fewer personnel.” He disclosed, further, that the officers at the outpost were believed to have been outnumbered 10 to 1 in the surprise attack. Significantly, AA insurgents had killed 13 policemen in a series of attacks on four police outposts in Rakhine on January 4, 2019, Myanmar's Independence Day.
On February 27, 2019, AA insurgents carried out a landmine explosion targeting four vehicles - three cars belonging to the Myanmar Police Force and one Sedan (Toyota Mark II, confiscated from criminals) – near Mile Post 165 on the Yangon-Sittway Road between Pan Nilar Village and Kyan Khin Village in Rakhine. Each of the four vehicles had a single police driver on board. Two police drivers were killed while the remaining two were injured in the attack.
The Myanmar military on January 18, 2019, had disclosed that the military clashed with the Arakan Army 15 times in 2015, 26 times in 2016, 56 times in 2017 and 61 times in 2018, while the rebels also planted some mines. The military also said there were at least eight armed encounters in 2019.
The Arakan Army, founded in 2009 by a few ethnic Rakhine Buddhists, has grown in strength to an estimated membership of 7,000. Security analyst David Scott Mathieson observes, “the Arakan Army has expanded to a force of [several thousand] soldiers” and “the scale and geographic reach of their activities have steadily grown." Apart from the incidents confirmed by the Myanmar Government, AA insurgents have claimed several other major attacks on security establishments. For instance, on March 10, 2019, AA announced that it occupied a temporary tactical command base and ‘arrested’ 11 ‘prisoners of war’ (troopers) during a clash with Myanmar Army troops near Buthidaung Township in Rakhine. Also, AA insurgents are issuing statements threatening Security Forces (SFs) with dire consequences. For instance, a February 8, 2019, statement warned,
… We urge the police to steer away from the battlegrounds, shifting their attention to protection of civilians… for those police who cooperate with the Burmese Army and the Burmese army that wears the police uniform, we should take them all as our opponents and will fight our defensive wars against them…
Indeed, according to the United League of Arakan (ULA), the political wing of the Arakan Army, founded in 2009, the stated goal of ULA and the AA is to
...struggle in line with the political and military means the Arakanese National Liberation, National Equality, the right of self-determination, the right to dispose of the Arakanese natural resources and the right to take the Arakanese own destiny in their hands, the rights of the Arakanese IDPs and the right to regain our national losses.
At a time when the Myanmar Government was focusing all its attention on its declared primary security threat, the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), a Rohingya Muslim insurgent group, the Arakan Army has intensified its violent activities in Myanmar. It was expected from Nay Pyi Taw to take stringent measures against the increasing menace of AA insurgents’.
On January 19, 2019, the Myanmar military announced that Arakan Army had been classified as a terrorist organisation. It also disclosed that Aung San Suu Kyi, State Counsellor of Myanmar, observed, “the Arakan Army is just a terrorist group” and had “instructed us to defeat them effectively, quickly and clearly”.
SF operations can now be expected to intensify, to contain the increasing lethality of this terror formation before it gets more lethal and create further chaos in the already unstable Rakhine region which has witnessed a displacement of over 800,000 of its population since 2016.
Ajit Kumar Singh is a Research Fellow, Institute for Conflict Management
Source: South Asia Terrorism Portal