Interviews

Arakan Army Chief: ‘The Burma Army’s Real Intentions Are to Continue Fighting’

By Nan Lwin Hnin Pwint 7 February 2017

Arakan Army (AA) chief Brig-Gen Tun Myat Naing recently spoke to The Irrawaddy about the conflict between the Burma Army and the Northern Alliance—whose members are comprised of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), and the AA. He also spoke on the role of China in Burma’s peace process, on military cooperation between the Northern Alliance and the United Wa State Army (UWSA), and the stances of the AA.

How is the Northern Alliance’s current military and political situation?

There are still clashes in the Kokang area as the Burma Army is continuing offensives as a consequence of the clashes that broke out [last] November.

As for the political situation, the government has not directly invited us [to talks]. But we met Sun Guoxiang [China’s Special Envoy of Asian Affairs] on Jan. 19, and he conveyed a message that [the Burmese government] was ready for talks. As far as I understood, it was as though he said that the Burma army chief [Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing] wanted us to join talks.

But then, the signatories of Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) recently met with the Burma Army chief and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, and we were confused to hear that the government would lead the peace process and that the army would lead the ceasefire process.

As you see, the two cases are closely intertwined, and neither can be successful without high levels of cooperation and understanding between the government and the army. So, the fact that they said they would handle the two processes separately suggests that there is no cooperation between them. I’m afraid there will be more limitations toward making progress.

What is your understanding of how the Burma Army would take care of the ceasefire process?

My view is that the army won’t concede its power at all. In fact, the ceasefire process is also the responsibility of the current government. The army has to cooperate according to the instructions of the government. We should have a clear idea by now of how much influence the government has over the army, and how much the army is willing to cooperate. We should know the real intentions of the army. My view is that the army’s real intentions are to continue fighting.
The previous government, as they were ex-generals, had closer links with the army both in terms of personal ties and procedures. But we don’t feel that the new government is as close to the army as the previous government. For example, U Aung Min [the lead peace negotiator for the previous government] was closer to the army than Dr. Tin Myo Win [the lead peace negotiator for the current government].

Burma Army chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing has said the army is cooperating with the National League for Democracy (NLD) government during its democratic transition. But on the other hand, clashes are occurring. So, what is your view of the current political situation in the country?

As I have said, there is no cooperation between the current government and the army. The army always justifies its actions by using the 2008 Constitution as a shield. It would always say its actions are in line with existing law. The army has proposed branding us as a terrorist organization in the Parliament. And it continues using that term though the Parliament didn’t approve it. It is unlawful to do something that is not approved the Parliament, but the army does it anyway. So, my conclusion is there is little cooperation between the government and the army.

What did the Northern Alliance discuss when you met Mr. Sun Guoxiang on Jan. 19? What did he say about the clashes, as they took place in an area that is part of the Silk Road Belt envisaged by China?

They didn’t put pressure on us. We requested that China take a fair stance concerning ethnic issues and the peace process. They said that they would not take sides, but stand fairly, and urged us not to be aggressive.

You said that Mr. Sun Guoxiang had implied that the Burma Army chief was open to including the Northern Alliance in talks. If that were to happen, what would you like to discuss?

Whether it is a peace talk or a dialogue, the most important thing before it is that the army needs to stop the ongoing offensives as quickly as possible. If they hold talks with us and are carrying out large-scale offensives at the same time, it will be very difficult [for us to talk].

Areas of the Northern Alliance are adjacent to UWSA region militarily. Will the Northern Alliance hold political talks with the government along with the USWA?

Yes, we want our Wa allies to join us in our talks with the government, and the Wa told us willingly that they were interested in doing so. The government, however, has concerns, thinking we have brought the Wa into the civil war. This is wrong. We just want to bring the Wa into the peace process. We won’t ask the Wa to join the discussion, but only to serve as a witness to our discussion with the government. But it seems that the government doesn’t want to allow it.

There are allegations that the UWSA supplied weapons and ammunitions to the MNDAA, AA and TNLA, and that the UWSA would “pull the strings” for these three groups on the political stage. What can you say in response to this?

Ethnic groups understand that if [the Burma Army] has finished fighting a particular group, then their next target will be one of them. So, there is mutual sympathy and understanding between us. It is quite natural for us to help each other, more or less. We have to work in cooperation, and it is not that UWSA pulls strings for us, it is just a negotiation between ethnic allies.

With which policy you would proceed toward political and peace talks with the government? Will the Northern Alliance take cues from the UNFC [United Nationalities Federal Council]?

The UNFC focuses more on political talks, but we work both politically and militarily. We will only publicize certain things about our political stances when we hold talks with the government.

Though we are standing separately as the Northern Alliance, we agree to the standpoints of [the UNFC’s] Delegation for Political Negotiation.

Despite the fact that both sides in this conflict are citizens of Burma, you have to rely on a Chinese envoy to send messages to the government. Do you feel like China has intervened in the ethnic affairs of the country?

Given the circumstances, we have to pull China in, even if China does not want to get involved. At present, we no longer have brotherly ties with the Burma Army. If it is just an argument at the table, we still can solve it. But now, [the army] said it would annihilate us, and this is no longer a brotherly relationship; we are enemies now. We are the weaker side and we have to seek help, as the stronger one is taking steps to annihilate us with bigger weaponry. If there is clash at the China border, China is also affected. What’s more, the Burma Army has also gotten help from China both in terms of weaponry and technology. So, even if China doesn’t want to get involved, it is inevitable that it will.

If we reached a certain level of progress in political dialogue, foreign countries would not need to get too involved. However, it is good to have them as observers. It is good if there are forces that can monitor and stand fairly while there is still no trust between the two sides. They would no longer be needed when the problem is solved at some point in the future. Even if they want to stay involved, neither side would like it. Now, we have to bring in outsiders because there is no domestic stability.

Is there anything else you want to add?

When we, the Northern Alliance, met the Chinese special envoy, we requested help for internally displaced persons. They are in deep trouble, because of severe weather as well as a shortage of foods and medicine. As they fled to the border with China, we urged the special envoy not to neglect them and to provide humanitarian aid. I saw that they listened carefully and noted it down.

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