Wednesday, February 1, 2023

HUMANITARIAN CEASEFIRE: A well-earned respite for war-weary AA and the junta but how long will it last?

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It surprised everybody when news of ceasefire between the military junta and Unite League of Arakan/Arakan Army (ULA/AA) was suddenly made public, as the war of words to match the fighting on the ground have been in heightening, which many thought was gearing to escalate rather than de-escalation.

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According to Myanmar Now, Narinjara News and Development Media Group AA Spokesman Khaing Thuka said since November 24, there were no more armed engagement between the AA and the Burmese military junta.

On November 26, concerning the ceasefire AA Spokesman Khaing Thuka told Narinjara News: “There is no agreement in writing. It means only that both sides will stop within 24 hours in areas they’ve presently reached or located. Within 24 hours means until tomorrow morning, all fighting will be stopped.”

“Mainly, we aim to resolve the difficulties and crises that the people of Rakhine are currently facing, and carrying out humanitarian ceasefire arrangement. At the moment, the harvesting time for main food supply has arrived, so we seriously thought of it for the people to carry out humanitarian ceasefire,” he added.

He claimed that AA’s political positions will not change saying: “Despite the current ceasefire, our political position will not change. It will remain as it was originally.”

Regarding the ceasefire between the AA and the military council, U Pe Than, a former member of the Pyithu Hluttaw of Myebon Township, said: “I see the ceasefire as a good sign at the moment. I am talking about the present situation. Because the villagers and the people are suffering a lot. The military council is firing heavy weapons into the villages and people are being killed and injured every day. Another thing is that they have cut off food supplies and medicines. Civilians have been arrested. They are doing a lot of investigations and interrogations to the people. They are also putting them in jail and so on. The people are suffering a lot from the negative impact of this war. Thus, if the ceasefire is genuine the fighting will cease, the situation will gradually improve and the people will be able to breath easily.”

U Oo Hla Saw a leading member of United League of Arakan Photo Yangon Media Group
U Oo Hla Saw a leading member of United League of Arakan. Photo: Yangon Media Group

U Oo Hla Saw, a leading member of the United League of Arakan (ULA), said that it is good to make military and political decisions only after solving the problems of the people, according to the RFA recent report.

He said: “As the people are not directly involved in the fighting, the stopping of armed engagement is a welcome aspect either from religious or social point of view. The political problems can be resolved later and even (resume) fighting each other again. The people of Rakhine will be happy if the restrictions that have been blocked or restricted will be opened, and they will breathe a little easier.”

In the same RFA report, U Pe Than said that it could be that the ULA/AA cannot bear to see the hardship and tragedy of the Arakan people has agreed to the ceasefire arrangement.

Referring to a Buddhist fable of a dispute over ownership of a child as mother, between a Yakshini [(Indian mythology) A kind of supernatural being; can be a malevolent demon or a beneficent tutelary deity] and real mother, the future Buddha acted as a judge on the dispute.

He had a line drawn on the ground and told the Yakshini to take hold of the child’s arms, and the mother to take hold of its legs; and said, “The child shall be hers who drags him over the line.”

But as soon as they pulled at him, the mother, seeing how he suffered, grieved as if her heart would break. And letting him go, she stood there weeping.

Eventually, it was proven that Yakshini wasn’t the real mother who just wanted to devour the child and the real mother was given back her child.

U Pe Than said that the junta is like the demon who doesn’t care that the child will be hurt by pulling it mercilessly with intention to cause damage. But the ULA/AA is like a real mother who has the heart of tender mother and let go for she can’t bear to hear the suffering sound of her child.

“In this sense at the moment, I see that ULA/AA has taken into consideration the voices of the people and given priority to the voices of those who are in trouble and crying,” he said.

U Pe Than also said that the ceasefire has given the Military Council, which is under military pressure, a breather.

Arakan State map Photo Mingala Go
Arakan State map. Photo: Mingala Go

In Rakhine State, the junta’s army and the Rakhine Army (AA) fought for more than four months and in these four months, 33 local people were killed and 79 injured, according to the RFA report.

Meanwhile, the junta has allowed some waterways to operate which was closed for months after the recent ceasefire agreement.

An official of the Shwe Pyitan Line told Western News: “At the moment, we are allowed to operate by sea, but we are allowed to operate to Rathedaung and Buthidaung. We have not yet received permission to operate to Mrauk U, Pauktaw, and Minyya.”

It is not yet known whether Ann Township’s Dalet River group will be allowed to operate and also the waterways going to Palatwa side of Chin State will be reopened.

Mediators

Mr. Sasakawa, the Japanese government’s special representative for national reconciliation, is in Myanmar and there are reports that he is mediating between the AA and the Military Council Army, but it has not been confirmed yet, according to recent RFA report.

But an insider source with deep knowledge in Myanmar’s peace process, as participant and observer, quoting news coming from UN Dhaka said that Sasakawa initiated the mediation since starting back in November 1. Reportedly, he was in Burma since November 25 and his assistant Yuji Mori since November 23, according to one of the media reports.

The same source said that the ceasefire is conditional to the facts that humanitarian needs of the people must be addressed allow cargo of rice, medicine and other needy things to flow; stop arbitrary arrests of the people; and allow ULA courts to operate without interference by the junta.

In addition, the source said no statements will be released out of respect to alliance partners and friends such as National Unity Government, as AA does not want alliance members to become frustrated and also it doesn’t believe it will hold much longer.

The rational of it is humanitarian ceasefire, as this is the harvest time which is very important to the citizens. However, this season harvest yield will be very low, estimated about 30 percent drop, due to the lack of water and inability to plant.

The two sides, AA and junta, have been holding talks quietly for sometime. Also the Rakhine political parties had held virtual meeting with AA leader Twan Mrat Naing and his deputy Nyo Twan Aung. The politicians told them if they kept on fighting, no matter who wins, the Rakhine people will be the losers, the insider source said.

According to the recent Myanmar Now report, AA spokesman Khaing Thukha said that the ceasefire was agreed upon through intermediaries, but did not reveal the name of the organizations involved.

But on November 28, he confirmed in a virtual press conference saying: “Some intermediaries have
stepped in and tried to work (on the ceasefire). Frankly speaking, we can say that this matter came
about with the mediation of Nippon Foundation Chairman Mr. Sasakakawa.”

On the 25th of this month, Hideo Watanabe, president of the Japan-Myanmar Friendship Association, visited Naypyitaw and held a meeting with the deputy coup leader.

In commemoration of the recent National Day, hundreds of people were awarded honorary credentials by the Military Council, along with some Russian military figures, including the president of the Japan-Myanmar Friendship Association, Hideo Watanabe, who was awarded the title of Thiri Pyanchi.

On the same day as the president of the Japan-Myanmar Friendship Association, the Director General of the Border Guard Force of Bangladesh and the Chinese Ambassador to Myanmar also arrived in Naypyitaw and held a meeting with the Military Council officials.

“Right now, the informal ceasefire means that if the ceasefire is confirmed, we must continue to negotiate for the release of the people who have been arrested and not to arrest the people. Since there are arbitrary killings, shootings with heavy weapons and such things, we consider for the people first, and then take informal humanitarian action. There will be no time limit and it will depend on the compliance of both sides. An informal ceasefire depends mainly on compliance by both sides. We have negotiated through intermediaries,” AA spokesperson Khaing Thukha said, according to the Western News.

Analysis

Given such political development, it is highly unlikely that durable ceasefire can be achieved easily.

The free flow of humanitarian aid cargo; stopping arbitrary arrests of the people, including the release of those detained; and allowing ULA courts to operate without interference by the junta will not be an easy task for the junta to accommodate, especially the last conditional demand of ceasefire.

Another thing is it will all depend on how the opposing troops operate and behave on the ground, and given the unruly and undisciplined nature of the junta’s troops, it will prove to be a daunting task.

But for the time being it can be taken as a win-win situation as both parties need a respite, especially the junta as it has to fight almost all over the country against ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) or ethnic resistance organizations (EROs), people’s defense forces (PDFs) and assorted local defense forces (LDFs).

However, the Arakan people will definitely welcome such a humanitarian ceasefire pause, even if the prospect of durable peace may still be an illusion.

“Updated according to virtual press conference of the AA on November 28.”

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