Nearly three years have passed since the military junta overthrew the government of the National League for Democracy (NLD) in Myanmar, and the People's Defence Forces (PDF) under the Government of National Unity (NUG) and the local ethnic armed groups ("NLD") in various parts of Myanmar have continued without causing major waves until October 10 this year.
At the same time, the "Three Brothers Alliance", comprising the Kokang Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), the Ta'ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and the Arakan Army (AA), launched the so-called "Operation 27" to capture passages, towns and other military targets in the northern part of the border state on the China-Myanmar border, with unprecedented success, and even the junta leader Min Aung Hlaing warned that the country could fall into secession.
The success of Operation 1027 was quickly echoed by other militias, from the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) in Kachin State in northern Myanmar to the Karen armed forces in Kayah State on the border between eastern Myanmar and Thailand, and from the Chin-State Civilian Armed Forces in western Myanmar to the Arakan Army in Rakhine State. They are working with the Burmese people, who oppose the junta, and even threaten the Burmese heartland, just over 1027 kilometers from the junta's capital, Naypyitaw, which seems to have no ability to turn the tide on the ground other than to respond with airstrikes.
According to the analysis, behind this huge offensive against the junta camp is the struggle for the interests of the various civilian and local armed forces, the popular aspirations of the national unity government, and the dissatisfaction of the Chinese government with the military junta's ineffectiveness in cleaning up telecommunications fraud syndicates. Whatever the reasons behind it, a major feature of the offensive was the cooperation of the anti-government Burmese and other ethnic minorities. This series of articles will introduce the origin and status of the various militias involved in the war in the Burmese national system. This is the second article.


In Rakhine State, western Myanmar, which has attracted international attention for many years over the Rohingya incident, is dominated by the Rakhine ethnic group, who believe in Buddhism, while the Rohingya, who believe in Islam and are not considered nationals by the Burmese and other ethnic groups in Myanmar, are only the second largest ethnic group in the state. This divide is also reflected in the distribution of civilian forces in the region, with the Rakhine forces, which are in opposition to the Burmese-dominated government but are in line with the government's rejection of the Rohingya, and the Rohingya armed forces that have risen to their own feet under pressure from other ethnic groups.

Seat of Rakhine State. (Google Map)

The Arakan people's land warriors are characterized by their support for their struggle for greater autonomy in line with that of other ethnic groups. Founded in 1968 with the support of the Karen National Union (KNU) on the Burma-Thailand border in eastern Myanmar, the Arakan Liberation Army (ALA) signed a ceasefire agreement with the military in 2015 after years of conflict, and its representatives continued to make peace with the Tatmadaw at the Myanmar Army Day event on March 3 this year.

However, the most powerful force in Rakhine State at the moment is the Arakan Army (AA), which was formed only in 2009 and was originally formed with foreign assistance from the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), which was trained and armed in the latter's military camps and assisted in two large-scale battles (the Kachin Independence Army and the Tatmadaw in 2011 and the Kokang military clash in 2015) before returning to their native Rakhine State with full combat experience. Because the young Arakan Army did not initially own its own base areas, unlike other large civilian forces that already had a high degree of autonomy within a state, they were distinctly revolutionary in nature and quickly became a major problem for the Tatmadaw by adopting radical approaches that are now rare to be used to seize territory and assert sovereignty.

After overthrowing the Aung San Kyi Sue regime in a military coup in 2021, the Arakan Army briefly broke the ceasefire reached with the government in 2020, but at that time, the anti-junta government of national unity had not yet gained momentum, and the anti-military Burmese did not have enough strength, and the Arakan army soon realized that there was no benefit to rushing into war, so it did not launch a major military operation, and reached another ceasefire agreement with the military in November 2022.

Operation 1027 broke this pattern, with the Arakan Army, together with the Kokang Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) and the Ta'ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), launching an offensive against the junta in the name of the "Three Brothers Alliance" in the northern part of the state, far from its home base. On the first day of the war on November 11, the Arakan army had captured dozens of military and police strongholds, forcing them to retreat to the city.

Myanmar's Arakan Army Commander-in-Chief Tun Myat Naing attends a meeting of leaders of ethnic armed groups in Shan State on May 2015, 5. (Reuters)

Means of aggressive frequent fire

What is the strength of the Arakan Army? With 3,000 troops, the Arakan Army, according to the Myanmar Peace Monitor, is not a standout among the veteran civilian forces. However, what is even more intimidating about this team is its aggressive style, such as the frequent use of kidnapping, which is now rare. The U.S. Institute of Peace noted last year that after the Arakan Army kidnapped 2017 civilians in neighboring Chin State in 50, it began to abduct military, police, and government officials more intensively, sometimes including state-run executives and foreign employees of foreign-owned companies.

While many of the hostages survived unharmed, many were killed in brutal rescue operations by the Tatmadaw army, such as U Ye Naing, the leading NLD figure in the Rakhine State town of Buthidaung, who was kidnapped in December 2019 and killed by the Tatmadaw as a direct airstrike on the Arakan army base. In this environment, a large number of officials resigned one after another to save their lives, achieving the goal of weakening the bureaucracy and asserting sovereignty in the state.

Another characteristic of the Arakan army is that it is not afraid of death, and will launch attacks on the Burmese army more frequently. On January 2019, 1, Myanmar's Independence Day, it deployed 4 soldiers to carry out a coordinated attack on four police stations in Rakhine State, killing 13 police officers and injuring nine. The Army's 9 annual summary also said that it had engaged the Tatmadaw in 2019 engagements of more than 681 minutes that year, resulting in 30,3 deaths and injuries from government security services, a figure that could not be verified, but undoubtedly the most intense and frequent fighting in Myanmar in recent decades.

Commander-in-Chief of the Arakan Army, Thongmiaryan (center), with the Arakan Army team. (AA info desk)

In addition, unlike other militias in northern Myanmar who mostly fight in the jungles, the Arakan army will operate directly on road or water communication arteries, such as intercepting ships, withholding money and supplies to government security forces, and taking hostages, which can help the Arakan army establish control over the state's internal logistics, and also cause more damage when it attacks. Coupled with the fact that the Arakan Army is inextricably linked to local political parties (the commander-in-chief of the Arakan Army, Thongmi Aryan's father-in-law is the speaker of the Rakhine State Assembly), the military, financial and political strength of the army in Rakhine State has become more and more significant, and it has become the most troubling force for the Tatmadaw in recent years.

Years of deprivation accumulate and then explode

The reason for the rapid rise of the Arakan Army Congress in recent years stems from the long-term political, economic, and geographical isolation of the Arakan people, and the resulting dispossession that has turned into an obsession with armed self-determination.

Like many of Burma's ethnic minorities that founded their own country, Rakhine State had a powerful and wealthy kingdom known as the Arakanese Kingdom between the 4th and 18th centuries AD. Especially after the rise of maritime trade in the 15th century, the Kingdom of Arakan became a prosperous trading hub due to its natural proximity to the Bay of Bengal to the west. However, the region was annexed by the Burmese Gongbang dynasty in 1784, then experienced British colonization, Japanese World War II disruptions, and finally after Burma's independence, it was systematically isolated by the long-ruling military junta, and fell into poverty and backwardness. In particular, after the military junta eliminated the local armed forces in the 60s of the last century, it deliberately neglected the construction of transportation in order to block the connection with other ethnic minority areas, and Rakhine State has been isolated and impoverished for a long time due to the isolation of the Rakhine Mountains in the east from the rest of Myanmar.

Even when Myanmar has opened up since 2010 and attracted a lot of foreign investment, and Rakhine State has become the starting point for the China-Myanmar oil and gas pipeline, which is an important part of China's dependence on the Strait of Malacca, and India has built a port in Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine State, to advance its "Eastward Strategy", the vast majority of the benefits from these projects have gone to the military and the central government, rather than improving the lives of the people of Rakhine. According to a 2019 World Bank report, Rakhine State's per capita GDP is 25% below the national average, 78% of the population lives below the average, and people in Rakhine State have less access to hygiene, electricity, and drinking water than in other regions.

In addition, the people of Rakhine have long resented the lack of political power. For example, in the 2015 general election, the Arakine National Party (ANP), a local party fighting for national self-determination, won a total of 22 seats in the upper and lower houses of parliament (out of 29 in the region) and 35 out of 22 seats in the local parliament of Rakhine State. In the 2020 general election, the Election Commission of the Union of Myanmar cancelled the votes in 17 of the 9 townships in Rakhine State due to the pandemic, and <>% of the local people lost their right to vote.

Geographically, economically, and politically deprived people in Rakhine State have become more aggressive in their pursuit of autonomy. Tun Ne Win, secretary-general of the local branch of the Arakan National Party, pointed out that "we feel that we are still in the colonial era because we don't have any independent decision-making power, and the central government rules everything." The Commander-in-Chief of the Arakan Army, Thongmi Yaliang, has also repeatedly emphasized this sentiment, and he has repeatedly passionately preached to his people to "break free from the shackles of racism and colonialism in Myanmar". Coupled with nostalgia for the golden age of the kingdom of Arakan before 1784, these emotions converged and became the driving force behind a large number of young people joining the armed struggle.

Is the problem of Rohingya refugees still unsolved?

Just as the central government of Myanmar has isolated Rakhine State, the central government and ethnic Rakhine have systematically segregated the Islamic Rohingya in the state, denying them citizenship and rights. Eventually, escalating friction and hatred erupted in two ethnic clashes between the two sides, in 2012 and 2017, which turned into a systematic purge of the Rohingya by the Burmese military, which the United Nations says led to the flight of more than 74,<> Rohingya to Bangladesh and shelter in refugee camps.

An official image of the Arakan Army's abduction of Myanmar security forces in November 2019. (Official Rakhan Army)

Where does such fierce hatred come from? Although Arab traders arrived and settled in Rakhine State as early as the 8th century, today's ethnic hatred is in fact a product of recent times.

After Burma lost the First Anglo-Burmese War in 1826 and Rakhine State became part of the British Indian colonial system, the British encouraged immigrants from Chittagong in Bangladesh to travel along the Bay of Bengal to Rakhine State to replenish their labor. A large number of outsiders were naturally hostile to the locals, and this confrontation between the identities of "foreign Muslims" and "native Buddhists" was exploited by the British and Japanese during World War II, for example, the Japanese armed Buddhists to help them resist British colonization, and the British formed an intelligence group called "Force V" (Force V) of local Muslims to find out whether Japan would invade India. Detachment V also committed the "Rakhine Massacre" in 1942, killing 10,<> Buddhists, which set the tone for the Rakhine hatred of the Rohingya to continue to this day.

Since the establishment of Myanmar, Rakhine State's economy has been slow to develop, intensifying the struggle between the Rakhine and Rohingya for resources. This, coupled with the fact that many young Rakhine people are unable to cope with poverty and go out to work, has led to a declining proportion of the local Rakhine population, deepening their fear that their homes will be occupied by others. A 2010 paper by the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies at Xiamen University pointed out that at a time when the Rohingya made up 45 percent of the population in Rakhine State, conflicts in their lives could easily escalate into ethnic antagonism.

In the midst of years of discrimination and oppression, the Rohingya also developed their own armed group, the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), in 2016, which became an alternative to the Rakhine militia and launched attacks on 2017 police stations in August 8. The Burmese army then embarked on a massive crackdown and evictions, causing more than 30,74 Rohingya to flee to Bangladesh as refugees. Bangladesh, which already has a large supply of cheap labor, is reluctant to give up jobs, other Muslim countries are looking to accept refugees, the Myanmar government has agreed with the United Nations in June 2018 to outline a refugee return plan, but has not taken action, and many Rohingya refugees have resisted returning to the land with painful memories...

On January 1, Rohingya refugee children played in a refugee camp in Bangladesh, and their future became a global question. (Getty)

Now in the turmoil in Myanmar, the Rohingya problem is becoming more and more unresolved. Even if the Arakan Army, together with other militia and anti-government Burmese forces, succeeds in overthrowing the junta, and the new government does govern the country with a federal system, allowing Rakhine to achieve greater autonomy, prosperity and stability, the overall hostile attitude of the Rakhine ethnic group towards the Rohingya has made it difficult for the two sides to turn around. Therefore, although the Arakan Army did not participate in the purge of the Rohingya, it is difficult to imagine that they will actively participate in the future to resolve the Rohingya issue. What is the way out for the Rohingya in Myanmar? No one can tell.

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