State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has been holding talks with military leaders regarding the labeling of militants in northern Rakhine State as terrorists, government spokesperson U Zaw Htay told The Irrawaddy.
“There have been discussions between the State Counselor and military leaders about labeling them as a terrorist organization,” he told The Irrawaddy on Thursday. “As a result of the meeting, we have released a statement. In the English version of the statement, we used the term ‘terrorist act.’ The leaders are still discussing details,” he added, referring to the killing of civilians in Maungdaw Township.
The National League for Democracy government of initially used the terms “extremist” and “terrorist activities” in an Aug. 11 press release by the State Counselor’s Office on Rakhine State.
The statement said that 59 people had been murdered in the area and 33 had gone missing, noting that village heads and those believed to be cooperating with the government or speaking to the media appeared to have been targeted. Specifically mentioned were seven ethnic Mro—a sub-group of the Arakanese—who were found dead of gunshot and machete wounds in early August.
Of those believed to be responsible, the State Counselor’s Office said: “They are making death threats in order to prevent the people from cooperating with the government as well as to disrupt the national [citizenship] verification process and the peace and security of the region.”
The Myanmar government is still investigating whether the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) has established connections with groups based outside the country, and with individuals who have released statements online calling for attacks in the region.
“We have yet to be sure whether the ARSA and the group which committed the destructive acts in Maungdaw are the same group…We need evidence. Only then, will we be able declare certain groups as terrorists,” U Zaw Htay told The Irrawaddy.
The ARSA released its own statement of demands in March, which included the provision of Myanmar citizenship, and access to education, aid, and freedom of movement for the Rohingya population. It also stated that its target is the “oppressive Burmese regime.”
During the Upper House session on Wednesday, military representative Lt-Col Ye Naing Oo urged the Parliament and government to label militants in Maungdaw as terrorists. He suggested that this would deter local and international organizations from providing them with “support” on the pretext of protecting human rights in the region, as well as stop the international media from “spreading propaganda” about them.
“Since they are connected with international terrorist organizations, only when we designate them as a terrorist group, will we be able to raise the issue to the UN Security Council with the assistance of international counter-terrorism agencies,” said Lt-Col Ye Naing Oo.
“Only then can we get help to effectively deter the support for [local] terrorist organizations,” he said as he discussed a proposal put forward by the Arakan National Party’s (ANP) U Khin Maung Latt which urged the Union government last week to identify and take action against militants active in Maungdaw, Buthidaung and Rathedaung townships under the 2014 Counter-Terrorism Law.
It would not be the first time that a Myanmar legislature has debated the use of the terrorist label: in early December 2016, the Shan State parliament voted to brand the Kachin Independence Army, the Ta’ang National Liberation Army, and the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army as “terrorist organizations,” following an urgent Union Solidarity and Development Party proposal to do so, citing offensives by the groups against the Myanmar Army. A similar proposal was previously voted down in the Union Parliament.
A total of 24 parliamentarians have registered for the current debate concerning militancy in northern Rakhine State, and only five have debated the proposal so far.
According to a July 21 statement from the State Counselor’s Office, a group called Aqa Mul Mujahidin conducted fatal attacks on Burmese border police outposts along the Bangladesh-Myanmar border last October, and in March of this year, merged with the Rohingya National Security Committee, re-forming as the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army. Links between the groups are still being investigated.
(c) 2017 The Irrawaddy