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Arakan Army

The Arakan Army is an ethnic Rakhine armed group formed in 2009. Violence between the Arakan Army (an ethnic Rakhine Buddhist group) and the military spilled over into Chin State, displacing many ethnic Chin. In addition to authorities, armed ethnic groups have been responsible for religious freedom violations.

Burma has one of the worlds longest-running internal armed conflicts, between the ethnic-Bamar dominated central government and nearly two dozen ethnic armed groups (EAGs). These conflicts are rooted in political grievances and ethnic minorities desire for greater rights and protections; the EAGs also clash with the government and with each other over territory and resources. In 2015, ten EAGs signed a ceasefire agreement with the government, but some armed conflict continues in parts of Kachin, Shan, Rakhine, and Chin States. This conflict is often sporadic in nature and tends to spike during dry season (November through February). Starting in January 2019, the most sustained fighting has occurred between the military and the Arakan Army, an ethnic-Rakhine EAG, in northern Rakhine State.

Intercommunal tension remains high in Rakhine State between the ethnic Rakhine and the Rohingya, a group that is not one of the officially recognized ethnic groups and which many in Burma view as illegal immigrants. As the Rakhine are Buddhist and the Rohingya Muslim, this conflict sometimes takes on a religious dimension, but the Rakhine also deeply resent the perceived oppression by their Bamar co-religionists who run the central government. Because the government does not recognize Rohingya as a minority, they must undergo verification to receive Burmese citizenship and are often unable to obtain identification cards or travel documents. In addition, they face abuse, institutionalized discrimination, and restrictions on freedom of movement, as well as a lack of access to education, livelihoods, and basic services. As a result, many have fled to Bangladesh, Indonesia, Thailand, and Malaysia.

The Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) attacks in 2017 and the military operations that followed led over 700,000 Rohingya refugees out of an estimated population of 1.1 million to flee into Bangladesh. The governments of Bangladesh and Burma continue to work on a repatriation process, but progress has been slow. The situation is now more complicated due to ongoing conflict between the military and the Arakan Army. Fighting has spread across central and northern Rakhine and southern Chin States. Tensions remained high.

On 24 February 2018, three IEDs detonated in the Rakhine State capital of Sittwe, in western Burma. The coordinated IED attack targeted three separate local government sites. Over the past year, RCIED technology had been observed several times in Rakhine, but it had always been relatively rudimentary; the Sittwe IEDs appeared more sophisticated than previous examples. Prior to these recent TTP developments in Rakhine, extremely similar RCIED TTPs were being observed in Kachin State (going back to at least 2016); this raises the possibility that the Sittwe IEDs show evidence of TTP migration, as the ANC is allied with organizations in the Northern Alliance (specifically the Arakan Army) operating in Kachin State. Escalating Buddhist extremist operations against the local government in Rakhine illustrate how complex the ethno-militant ecosystem remains in Rakhine.

On 27 March 2018, youth across the border in Bangladesh received recruitment letters written in Burmese from the AA in Rakhine State. Members of the Bangladeshi government and security forces conducted a meeting to discuss the letters, assuring local youth not to panic. Some youth have already joined the cause, which is reportedly conducting 15 days of training in Rakhine starting on 31 March. The letters specifically targeted former members of the organization, also requesting they increase recruitment.

On 4 January 2019 the Arakan Army (AA), an ethnic Rakhine armed group, launched coordinated attacks on four police posts in northern Rakhine State, killing 13 police officers and injuring nine others. The attacks which came after months of low-level yet steadily increasing clashes between the group and the Myanmar military triggered a major escalation in the conflict.

On April 2, 2019, the US embassy stated "The United States is deeply concerned about the harm to civilians of the ongoing conflict in Rakhine and Chin States between the Arakan Army and the Myanmar military. We call on all parties to renew their efforts to end the fighting and work toward a peaceful resolution of the conflict."

On 10 March 2019, members of the Arakan Army attacked a Myanmar police force boat in Kardi Creek near Yathedaung township in Rakhine state. On 16 March 2019, Arakan Army insurgents are believed to have attacked a cargo ship in the Kalardan River near Paletwa Township with gun shots and ensuing fire onboard caused the ship to capsize. There were reports in 2019 of the Arakan Army abducting civilians, including Christian pastors.

On 10 May 2019, an Arakan Army (AA) member fled the scene after detonating a RCIED targeting an Army (Tatmadaw) column conducting clearance operations in Phayar Paung and Taung Pauk Villages, Rakhine State. The detonation resulted in no casualties. Unconfirmed reports mentioned government troops and AA fighters engaged in small arms fire in the area. After Tatmadaw troops shot the AA suspect, officials found explosive materials at the scene consisting of wires, an unexploded grenade, a telephone keypad, and landmine-related materials.

On 12 May 2019, Arakan Army militants detonated RCIEDs under a military convoy and fled after Tatmadaw troops returned fire near Ann-Sittwe Highway, Ann Township, Rakhine. The attack wounded one soldier. Media states that the AA detonated remotely controlled landmines; however, it is very likely the devices were improvised based on historical precedent.

On 31 May 2019, a passenger bus traveling on the Yangon-Sittway Road in Myebon Township, Rahkine ran-over a Victim Operated IED (VOIED) likely emplaced by the Arakan Army (AA). The blast occurred at 1645 local time as the bus pulled over to the side of the motorway to allow vehicles driving in the opposite direction to exit the road. At this time, the bus ran over the VOIED, which destroyed the bottom of the vehicle. The bus had 45 passengers aboard when the blast occurred; however, there were no injuries.

The AA placed the VOIED on the side of the road where buses typically pull over to allow other vehicles to pass. This possibly indicates that the AA deliberately targeted the passenger bus knowing the practices of the drivers on that section of the motorway.

The AA does not have an extensive history of attacking civilian targets such as passenger bus lines. In February, the AA did claim responsibility for a series of VOIED blasts that struck two civilian buses in Ponnagyun, Rahkine. The AA reportedly attacked those buses after learning that the Tatmadaw (Burmese military) were using them to transport personnel in and around conflict zones. To prevent further attacks and minimize civilian casualties, the AA instructed all private transport companies to report their passenger information to the AA via email or social media. There are several information gaps related to this incident; namely, the AA has not commented on the attack and it is unknown if the Tatmadaw were present on the bus. Nonetheless, it is likely that if the Tatmadaw continues to use buses for military purposes, the AA will consider these as legitimate targets.

The insurgent group continues to clash with Tatmadaw forces in the Rakhine region. The AA will likely continue its campaign of attempting to dislodge the Tatmadaw from the region, which could lead to continued IED activity.




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