On 6th of August, the Myanmar Government announced that the Arakan Army will not be invited for the next 21st Century Panglong Conference.
On the other hand, it indicated that the other seven Ethnic Armed Organizations who have opted out of signing the National Cease fire agreement with the Government will be invited.
This was announced by U Zaw Htay, the Director General of the State Counsellor’s Office. The other seven who have been invited will include the UWSA, the KIA, KNPP, SSDP/SA, TNLA, NDAA and the MNDAA.
The last three outfits who are all located on the China border are part of the brotherhood alliance along with the Arakan Army and supported by China.
According to the TNLA Spokesman, Maj. Mai Aik, all the entities under the brotherhood alliance will not also attend the Conference if the Arakan Army is not invited. This would result in hte Panglong Conference becoming another “exercise in futility” as no purpose is served if the active participants in the ethnic conflict are absent.
It is also said that the NSCN of Khaplang group, a Myanmar- outfit that operatesonly in India will not also be invited for the Conference perhaps in deference India.
The reason given by the Government Spokesman of the State Counsellor’s Office for not inviting the Arakan Army was that the outfit has been declared to be a “Terrorist Outfit”early this year. (March) This was done perhaps on the insistence of the Army (Tatmadaw) that has been fighting a vicious civil war in Rakhine and in parts of Chin State.
It may be recalled that the other seven outfits were allowed to join the last Panglong Conference at the last minute, at the instance of China, whose Chief Interlocutor, Sun Guoxiang (Special Envoy for Asia Affairs) persuaded both the Army and the Civilian Heads to do so despite initial reluctance.
We have in one of our earlier papers have said that the Arakan Army cannot be treated as a terrorist Outfit. It does not meet the parameters either given under the definition based on the UN Resolution 1373 passed unanimously in the UN Security Council on 28th September 2001.
The AA does not kill innocent civilians whereas the Myanmar Army by its indiscriminate bombing and firing has killed a large number of civilians in its counter insurgency operations and also resulting in the displacement of people in thousands.
The fact of the matter is that the Arakan Army has the full support of the people in the Rakhine Area and the Myanmar Army despite artillery, aerial bombing and concentration of troops has been unable to subdue the Arakan Army.
It was no surprise that the Army Chief while attending the Russian 75th Anniversary Victory celebrations in Moscow sought international Cooperation in suppressing the rebel groups. Many Observers felt that it was an indirect reference to China. It is widely felt in the Myanmar Army Circles that China cannot be trusted and that China continues to support the ethnic insurgent groups and at the same time meddling in the peace process.
China’s prestigious CMEC under the Belt and Road Initiative passes through the Rakhine State ending in the Kyaukpyu deep sea port it is building. It cannot afford to antagonise the Arakan Army. So far, the Chinese projects have not been touched while it is not the case with the Indian aided Paladan- Sitwe project leading to Mizoram! It will be interesting to see the Chinese reaction to keep the Arakan Army out of the Panglong Conference.
In a recent incident, on 2nd and 3rd August, an Arakan Army Unit attacked a combined force of Myanmar Army and Police near Maungdaw township when over 16 were killed with many wounded and six including an Army Officer were captured. The Arakan Army website gives full details of the incident with photographs of the Myanmar Army personnel captured.
It looks that the Arakan Army is seriously preparing the ground to have a permanent base near about Maungdaw Township and the Myanmar Army is equally determined not to allow any permanent base in Rakhine State. In fact, even an agreement on a cease fire between the Army and the AA is hanging in the balance with the Myanmar Army stubbornly refusing to accept the ground realities that the Arakan Army is there to stay in Rakhine State.
Independent observers believe that the Arakan Army can sustain itself even without outside help for at least four years. Since it has the overwhelming support of the people, it was unwise on the part of the Myanmar Government to declare it as a terrorist outfit thus precluding any dialogue with them. Worse still, is the decision of the Government not to invite them for the coming 4th Twenty-first Century Panglong Conference soon to be held at the Capital Naypyitaw.