Border tensions: Is it Arakan Army or Tatmadaw?

(The Mog Nation Wiki, an archive)


by: Afsan Chowdhury | Dhaka Courier

September 23, 2022

Bangladesh continues to be a collateral victim of Myanmar’s internal politics and Indo-China rivalry in the region. The latest border problem is a result of the Myanmar government’s continuing war with the Arakan Army (AA), one of the most organized ethnic rebel groups inside Myanmar. Yangon has told Bangladesh that the shells landing in Bangladesh were actually lobbed by the AA. The sub-text added was that AA wants to see worsening BD-Myanmar relations.

Bangladesh media has been portraying the issue as a Myanmar-BD problem but facts always don’t support this. The AA is also fully supported by China who is using them and other rebel groups to spread its influence in the eastern side of the region.

India fears that this is meant to weaken its position in the region. It has always been wary of rebel activities in Myanmar. And it’s not just because of shared ethnic groups in both countries who are militant too. Both Pakistan and China have supported such groups hoping to gain advantage against India, their media says.

The Arakan Army and Myanmar

Myanmar has said that the Arakan Army and the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) both from the Rakhine zone- are responsible for the recent troubles. This message was conveyed to the Bangladesh’s ambassador in Yangon recently. Incidentally, both groups are fighting Yangon and have often taken shelter in Bangladesh’s hilly areas.

The reason why there appears to be a sudden escalation within Myanmar for the last 3/4 weeks is because the central authority is weakening due to its economic difficulties. However, the official army is also able to strike back strongly and hence the escalation.

U Zaw Phyo Win, a top official -director-general of the foreign ministry’s Strategic Studies and Training Department- at Myanmar’s foreign ministry, called in Ambassador Manjurul Karim Khan Chowdhury to clarify the situation.

Recent armed encounters in Myanmar between the AA and official forces have seen body counts on both sides and a police outpost in Maungdaw Township was captured by the rebels.

“The director general expressed Myanmar’s willingness to work with Bangladesh to maintain tranquility along the border and stressed the significance of “full and reciprocal cooperation” in that regard. (BDnews24)

Shelter in Bangladesh: ARSA

Myanmar has also informed that both AA and ARSA have shelters inside Bangladeshi and asked for the termination of the same. This is a fact but it’s not a political shelter as part of any Bangladeshi intent.

ARSA or similar groups such as Rohingya Liberation Front (RLF) was sheltered and trained and supplied with arms by Bangladesh during the 1992-93 period when Rohingyas came in. Pakistan’s ISI helped the operation and it was mentioned in the local media also. Later, most of the refugees returned home and the weapons’ left behind by these groups used to be regularly found in the hilly areas of Cox’s Bazar.

Current Rohingya refugees have a smattering of ARSA activists among them but are hardly a serious threat. They appear to have been dormant in the last few years without a major sponsor. However, Myanmar has always used them as an excuse to push out Rohingyas and blame Bangladesh.

The Arakan Army

The Arakan Army is a very different ball game because its way more serious with near official support by China and links with other China supported groups inside Myanmar. China does have a huge stake in the region and the lack of any central authority has allowed China to build its base in that troubled zone.

The AA group has sophisticated weaponry including 50 of the MANPADS (Man-Portable Air Defense Systems) surface-to-air missiles.

This outfit does have shelter in the Bandarban area including Naikahanchari where they apparently have significant sized camps. BGB leaves them alone and rightly as it can’t afford to risk a large-scale confrontation. The famine a few years back that struck that area may have been caused by AA forbidding harvesting for a period of time.

Can Dhaka do much?

Briefing ambassadors from ASEAN countries, Rear Admiral Md Khurshed Alam, acting secretary of foreign affairs said “We took in the Rohingya five years ago and they have not taken a single one back. As our prime minister has said, we are working on the matter patiently. This cannot be allowed to continue.”

When told that Myanmar has blamed the rebels, Khurshed said: “They have been saying similar things since the start.”

Bangladesh can neither afford a war it can’t win nor expect the problem to go away. The matter is not in Bangladesh or even Myanmar’s hands as it’s obvious that big power politics dominates the conflict which has resulted in the current situation.

The refugees are not going home soon either. Unless China trains the AA better to fire missiles and helps the Myanmar military to envision a peace deal in which more than half the country is not under official state authority, these border trifles will go on. For Bangladesh the focus should be more on the Teesta barrage project where BD-China interests slots in smoothly.



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