Autonomy must come before peace, Arakan Army leader says

The Arakan Army is giving more weight to its struggle for self-determination rather than achieving peace in strife-torn Rakhine State, a senior leader of the group said.

Major General Tun Myat Naing, chief of staff of the Arakan Army (AA), told reporters on the sidelines of the 30th anniversary of peace in Wa State in Panghsang city that peace will not come by only praying.

“It is true we want peace. However, for Rakhine people, the right to self-determination is more important. If we get it, peace will automatically follow,” he said.

China’s mediation of the conflict and discussions between government negotiators and AA leaders have made little progress, said Maj. Gen. Tun Myat Naing.

China has a special interest in Rakhine, as it has invested in the China-Myanmar gas pipeline and Kyaukphyu deep-sea port projects in the state, which has seen sporadic clashes between the military and AA.

The fighting has intensified since November, when the AA began a bid to set up a base in the state. The government has vowed to prevent the AA, which now only has camps in adjacent Kachin State, from setting up a base in Rakhine. It has accused the AA of disturbing development in Rakhine. The AA said it does not oppose development that will benefit Rakhine’s people.

Maj Gen Tun Myat Naing denied accusations that the AA and the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) have formed a tactical alliance.

“We only study what weapons and training courses ARSA has, its political aims, and how many religious extremists it has. The weapons it has are no good, but we cannot underestimate them,” he said.