In a surprise move, Myanmar Army leaders decided to dispatch an army battalion to troubled Rakhine State this week.
The troops arrived in state capital Sittwe on Thursday.
National Security Adviser U Thaung Tun told reporters after a forum on democratic transition in Naypyitaw on Friday that the Tatmadaw was stepping up to its responsibility investigate militant camps in Mayu mountain range and protect civilians in Maungdaw Township.
The dispatch followed a two-hour meeting between Arakan National Party (ANP) members and military commander-in-chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing in Naypyitaw on Wednesday.
Just back from a week-long trip to Japan, the commander-in-chief hastily approved the closed-door ANP meeting.
The politicians did most of the talking, according to sources close to the matter, and requested a boost in northern Rakhine security after six ethnic Mro were killed in Maungdaw Township last week.
Since the attack, civilians—mainly ethnic Rakhine and Rakhine sub-ethnic Mro—have fled their homes.
Rakhine politicians were clearly alarmed by the developing situation and asked to hold an emergency security meeting.
Also present at the meeting was deputy commander-in-chief of defense services and army commander-in-chief Vice-Snr-Gen Soe Win as well as chief of general staff (army, navy and air) Gen Mya Tun Oo. The ANP delegation was headed by chairman Dr. Aye Maung.
ANP leaders initially approached the office of State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi for a meeting. It is unclear why the meeting did not take place.
Around the same time, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi also held a meeting to discuss security issues with the home and border affairs ministries.
The ANP then turned to the military and the seven-member delegation marched to the offices of Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing.
Following the meeting, ANP lawmaker U Pe Than, who represents Myebon Township in the Lower House, told The Irrawaddy: “We’ve officially asked for further deployment of Tatmadaw forces for the security of Rakhine State.”
“We pointed out that existing security forces are too small to protect ethnic villages,” he continued. “The army chief said the Tatmadaw has large forces and that he would increase the troops if necessary.”
Less than 48 hours after the meeting with ANP politicians, Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing gave the green light to dispatch fully-equipped troops belonging to 33rd Light Infantry Division by air to Sittwe, despite bad weather.
The military was clearly ready for such a speedy deployment.
“The army chief said he would fully protect ethnic groups in Rakhine State and that he would take care of the routes that [immigrants] use to come in illegally, and make sure the Mayu mountains are not used by militants,” said ANP delegation member U Oo Hla Saw, who is a Lower House member of Parliament for Mrauk U Township.
The UN recently warned aid workers in western Myanmar of rising hostility and imminent protests from troubled Rakhine State’s majority Buddhists, some of whom claim humanitarian agencies are giving support to Rohingya Muslim militants.
Reuters obtained the text of a “precautionary security notification” distributed to the 300 or so UN staff and to international non-governmental organizations (INGOs) in Rakhine on Wednesday.
It notes the “increased likelihood of civil unrest” and the possibility of demonstrations at aid agency offices in the state already racked by violence.
The Irrawaddy first reported a shift in security operations to focus on the Mayu Mountains in northwestern Rakhine in June. Three suspected militants were killed by security personnel in two days of raids that month.
Several weeks ago, an intelligence source in Asia told The Irrawaddy some 300 Muslim Rohingya were undergoing foreign-funded training using automatic rifles in the Mayu mountains.
The Irrawaddy was unable to verify these claims.
At Wednesday’s meeting, the ANP also asked Commander-in-Chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing to segregate Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine State’s Maungdaw Township.
“Ethnic [Rakhine] villages are surrounded by Bengali villages, so, we called for designating No-Bengali zones in the area,” U Khin Maung Latt of the ANP, who was at the meeting, told The Irrawaddy.
The stateless Rohingya Muslim population of 1.1 million in Rakhine is referred to as “Bengali” by many in the state and the government, to infer that they are interlopers from Bangladesh.
The two communities remain largely separated since inter-communal violence in 2012 and 2013 displaced around 140,000 people, the vast majority of them Muslim Rohingya.
Myanmar Army-led security operations in northern Rakhine—mired in allegations of extensive human rights abuses—in response to attacks on border guard posts that killed nine police in October 2016 continued until mid February this year.
It is unclear what the military has planned for security operations, possibly in the Mayu mountains, and how long they will last.
(c) 2017 The Irrawaddy