Rakhine rebels locked in a vicious fight with Myanmar’s army will not “get peace by praying”, its commander said as he vowed his forces will fight on despite being outnumbered and under aerial assault.
The increasingly bloody battle in western Rakhine state is between the Myanmar military and the Arakan Army (AA), which claims to be fighting for more autonomy for ethnic Rakhine Buddhists in one of the country’s poorest states.
With the region under strict lockdown, it is difficult to get a precise death toll, though the military has confirmed over 20 of its security forces have been killed by the AA since January.
Speaking to reporters Wednesday from the safety of the Wa region of eastern Shan State, which borders China, AA chief Tun Myat Naing said his forces have no intention of giving up their armed struggle.
“We are not the ones to give up. We have to fight the war,” said the bespectacled major-general.
“We will not get peace by praying.”
The rebel leader was speaking in Panghsang, home to the United Wa State Army, a normally reclusive group who this week invited journalists and other ethnic leaders to commemorate 30 years of autonomy.
The China-backed Wa have a long-standing ceasefire with Myanmar, which has so far allowed them to operate from a semi-autonomous zone.
Experts allege the well-armed Wa, who have a 25,000-strong standing army, offer training and equipment to several other rebel groups as leverage against Myanmar’s central state.
The presence of the AA leader in Panghsang will do little to dilute that perception -- despite vociferous denials by the Wa.
A brutal military campaign in 2017 forced out some 740,000 Rohingya Muslims into Bangladesh.
Myanmar’s army said the mass expulsion was justified in a campaign to stamp out Rohingya militants known as the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA).
With many Rohingya gone, the AA has ramped up its own campaign of ambushes and assassinations.
Earlier this month a military helicopter attack killed at least six Rohingya, who the army claimed was working with the AA. Tun Myat Naing rejected the accusation as “groundless.”