RANGOON — Fighting broke out on Sunday between government troops and the Arakan Army in western Burma, in what is believed to be the first time in a decade that ethnic Arakanese armed rebels in the region have come to blows with the Burma Army.
The Arakan Army is largely based in Laiza, Kachin State, where the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) is headquartered, but ethnic rebel soldiers from the group have begun returning to Arakan State in recent months. A report from the Arakan Information Department, which disseminates information about the Arakan Army on Facebook, said two Burma Army soldiers were killed and two were detained near Kyauktaw Township in the weekend fighting, during which the department said Burma Army guns and ammunition were also seized.
The fighting began at 3 am and continued until 7:30 am on Sunday, the report said, adding that the Arakan Army had suffered no casualties.
The Arakan Army formed in 2008 and has been active in Laiza, where it trains with the KIA. Most recently, the Arakanese armed group has been in the news since claiming its involvement in ongoing hostilities in northeast Burma that have primarily pitted the government against ethnic Kokang rebels.
Arakanese armed rebel forces belong to one of two groups, the other known as the Arakan Liberation Party (ALP), which last clashed with the Burma Army about 10 years ago and signed a ceasefire with the government in 2012. The ALP has participated in ongoing peace negotiations as a member of the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT).
The Arakan Army is also considered part of the NCCT by other ethnic rebel groups, but the government does not recognize its claim to membership.
A statement from the NCCT on Saturday said the group was concerned that ongoing hostilities between the Burma Army and a handful of ethnic armed groups was undermining the country’s stalled peace process.
The statement asked for the government’s “tolerance” and “cooperation” in working to resolve Burma’s long-running ethnic conflicts, saying: “While having negotiations to reduce fighting in northern Shan and Kachin [states], there is ongoing fighting, in which ground forces and the Air Force were used in fighting in northern Shan. Our work will be in vain, and it is sad to see that there is ongoing fighting there. Peace—expected by people in Burma and also internationally—will be far away by doing this.”
The statement was issued just one day after Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing said in a speech on Armed Forces Day that “in the implementation of a ceasefire and the peace process, the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration [of ethnic armed groups] is essential.”
The disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) term has been a contentious sticking point in peace negotiations, with ethnic groups preferring to address the issue as a matter of security sector reform (SSR). One of the essential unanswered questions in ongoing peace negotiations is the fate of the tens of thousands of rebel soldiers serving more than a dozen ethnic armed groups across Burma.
Peace talks are due to reconvene on Monday after a one-week pause, with the government speaking positively about prospects for a long-sought nationwide ceasefire agreement, while some ethnic leaders have expressed doubt about the ability of negotiators to bridge remaining differences.