Lately, a row erupted between the Arakan Army (AA) and Tatmadaw not on the battlefield as has been the case quite intensively for the last few months but on propaganda, news fabrication and news dissemination in news media arena.
AA regularly doles out in form of battle news and announcements on its website, which the Tatmadaw contradicted from causality figures to actual happenings of the battles.
The main accusations were that the Tatmadaw has been staging fake battles and randomly shooting and bombarding civilian targets to cover its atrocities by creating fake battles, which it naturally rejected. However, news media and the local people in the field confirmed that many a time fake battles staged have been the cases in point.
On March 22, AA made an announcement accusing the Tatmadaw the death of 5 villagers and several wounded, including damages to some houses, when it went on a shooting spree without any provocation and battle engagement on March 21, around 9pm until daybreak, in the village of Si Taung, Buthitaung township. The troops were said to be from the Light Infantry Battalion 22.
On March 31, the Tatmadaw True News Team issued a statement cautioning the public not to believe “false and fabricated information and propaganda” spread by the AA, whose soldiers it accused of disguising themselves as local residents of areas where government forces are fighting the rebel group in Arakan state.
“According to the statement, following attacks on four police outposts at Ngamyinbaw, Kyaungtaung, Goappi, and Khahtila on 4 January, the AA group continued to target police stations, planted mines on the Yangon-Sittway Union Road, sent bullets in envelopes, and issued death threats to heads of police stations, administrators of wards and villagers, and killed them in attempts to harm the administrative machinery and the rule of law,” reported The Global New Light of Myanmar on April 1.
“It has been found that local people are being subjected to intimidation by AA, according to the statement. The AA group is taking advantage of this to carry out attacks on security forces by taking position in wards and villages,” emphasized the statement.
It added: “Besides, after the clash with security forces, AA members have been disguising themselves as civilians and spread fake news, and forcing villagers to spread fake and fabricated information and post it on social media and websites to create misunderstanding among people, according to the statement.”
The AA spokesman Khine Thukha rebutted all the allegations saying that there were no such happenings like its troops attacking while taking cover among the civilians and settlements and the Tatmadaw randomly shooting at them is a deliberate attempt to fan-up racial hatred between the Arakanese and the Bamar ethnic group.
Again on April 1, Development Media Group received an email from an account called “Myo Chit” threatening that the media sympathetic to the AA could meet the fate of U Ko Ni, the NLD legal adviser who was assassinated in January 2017 for being critical to the Tatmadaw’s drawn constitution and help created the position of state counselor position for Aung San Suu Kyi to circumvent the § 59f that barred anyone who is spouse to foreigner or have family members who are foreigners to hold the presidential portfolio. The email is signed Patriotic Bamar Tatmadaw Group.
On April 3, AA rebutted in a statement on the widespread accusation that it threatened the news media to bomb them if they use the tag “terrorist insurgent” and defame its organization.
Reportedly, Eleven Media Group, 7 Days Journal, One News Myanmar, The Voice, MCN, Yangon Khit Thit, The Ladies News were sent messages either through emails or Messenger threatening to take drastic actions on them for calling names and defamation.
The report first made public by the Eleven Media Group on April 2 was copied by several news paper and spread widely said the April 3, AA statement.
The AA rebuttal by Khine Thukha has two main points. Firstly, its email address is firstname.lastname@example.org and not the one used to send to the news media and the secondly, it makes no sense to attack the news media, which it has already invited to come to AA operational areas on March 29 through an announcement to witness and verify the reality for themselves on the ground. Furthermore, the statement said that it respects and considers the media to be a necessary fourth institution in helping the transition of the country.
As the situation escalated in battlefield and as well in media and social media outlets, the possibility to even start a talk is getting more and more remote. And as such, a new kind of approach, particularly the civilian-military regime, should make an about turn from its position of total annihilation to political means of negotiation to ward off the growing deterioration of the situation. After all, past experiences of many decades have shown, nobody could win through military confrontation and it is better to stop it while the causality from both sides is still at the minimum, if not for anything else at least to save human lives.