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Under Pressure at Home, Arakan Army Says it Will Take Fight to Myanmar Heartland

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The Arakan Army (AA) has announced it would expand operations from Rakhine state, where it is under heavy government army pressure in its nearly year-old fight for greater autonomy, to the heartland of Myanmar with the help of allied ethnic armies.

The AA announcement on Friday cited the example of a deadly attack by the three-army Northern Alliance in August in Shan state that killed 15 people.

On Aug. 15 , the AA, and allies the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), and Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) fired heavy artillery at the Pyin Oo Lwin Myanmar military’s Defense Services Technology Academy in Mandalay’s township and five other locations, the government army said.

The announcement came after intense fighting in recent days between the AA and the government army in Mrauk-U, Kyauktaw, Minbya and Ponnagyun Townships in Rakhine state, while the military engaged in similar fighting with TNLA in Shan state Thursday.

Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun of the military information committee said that in response to the threat “we will keep doing our security operations.”

“They have launched attacks against (our) operations calling for intensified offensives against them,” he said.

“We’ve already made it clear that we are doing in Rakhine State is counter-insurgency operations — protecting the lives and properties of the civilian population, safeguarding the administrative bodies of the State and securing the sovereignty of the nation,” he said.

“We are just doing our job as the security forces,” added Zaw Min Tun.

Analysts in Myanmar said the AA’s declaration might not translate into immediate action.

“Since the military has regained control of (AA) territory, it is very unlikely that another attack on the ground will happen. It is more likely that they intend to use it as a threat,” Thein Tun Oo, the executive director of Thayninga Institute for Strategic Studies, told RFA’s Myanmar Service.

“They might have the capacity to implement the attack, but I think it is more likely just a threat,” he added.

Yangon based ethnic affairs analyst Maung Maung Soe noted that the announcement was only unilateral, unlike the three-army announcement that preceded the Aug. 15 attacks in Shan state.

“This time the announcement only represents the AA. If it was a joint statement from all three ethnic armed groups, it is more likely that it will be followed by the attacks,” he said.

Colonel Mei Aik Kyaw from the TNLA, however, told RFA that as a fellow member of the Northern Alliance, TNLA will support the AA.

“We have both political and military cooperation with the AA. As a fellow ethnic armed group of the Northern Alliance, we have a duty to stand with the AA. ”

The political analyst Aung Thu Nyein predicted a repeat of tactics

“Three armed groups of Northern Alliance Group launched the offensive attacks on (Pyin Oo Lwin) and other targets. Then, they went back to the negotiation table. Now, they are considering another offensive attack. I think there will be no solution as they are caught in this cycle,” he told RFA.

August 15 attack on five military targets by Northern Alliance ethnic groups killed 15 army soldiers, police and civilians and injured 15 others, according to the government’s official announcement on August 16. The government said the attacks have stopped the trade and traffic flows on the Muse-Shuili highway between Myanmar and China, causing trade losses of as much as $7 million daily.

O Thursday, a remote mine attack against police truck carrying about three dozen detained AA suspects in northern Rakhine’s Maungdaw township, killed two police and wounded several others, Myanmar state media reported.

“Yesterday, after the mine explosion, traffic was stopped on the highway, but it returned to normal this morning. The local villagers are concerned that the military might arrest them. So far, nothing happened yet,” said Maung Kyaw Zan, an MP representing neighboring Buthidaung township.

AA spokesman Khine Thukha denied government claims that his army staged the attack. RFA was unable to reach police authorities from the township.

“We have no responsibility for this incident,” said Khine Thukha.

The armed conflict between Myanmar forces and the AA has killed at least 90 civilians and displaced tens of thousands of civilians in Rakhine and neighboring Chin state hostilities escalated in late 2018.

Reported by Nay Myo Htun and Min Thein for RFA's Myanmar Service. Translated by Aung Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written by Paul Eckert.

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