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Friday, January 27, 2023

Strategic importance of Rakhine

The humanitarian situation of Rakhine was deteriorating day by day. Due to heavy clashes with Arakan Army and outposts seizure by Arakan Army, the four cut strategy was applied by junta, i.e. to cut access to food, funding, intelligence and recruits for rebel groups by targeting every village that is thought to have ties with them.

Surprisingly, Myanmar military and Ethnic armed group Arakan Army have been agreed (Nov. 26) to a temporary ceasefire agreement (through the mediation of Yuhei Sasakawa), after a fierce clash that started in July 2022. This sudden move of the two has brought a great relief to the people of Rakhine and also to this whole region.

The humanitarian situation of Rakhine was deteriorating day by day. Due to heavy clashes with Arakan Army and outposts seizure by Arakan Army, the four cut strategy was applied by junta, i.e. to cut access to food, funding, intelligence and recruits for rebel groups by targeting every village that is thought to have ties with them.

The regime had isolated all of northern Maungdaw, blocking all waterways in the area, as well as the roads linking Maungdaw and Rathedaung and Rathedaung and Ponnagyun townships.Residents of northern Maungdaw Township were trapped in their villages without food and medicine.Many  new security checkpoints had been set up along the Yangon-Sittwe Road in Sittwe, Ponnagyun, Kyauktaw, Mrauk-U, Minbya, Myebon and Ann townships. Passenger buses were barely operating.In fact, Rakhine was a big prison.

After the ceasefire, it seems that the situation is shifting towards normalization. Junta have restored marine connections between the state capital Sittwe and other coastal communities but is still blocking roads to and from Sittwe and stopped arson attacks and heavy artillery shelling but still making arrests.In Minbya and Mrauk U townships, regime forces continue to conduct house searches and security checks on pedestrians.

Bangladesh and Myanmar on a map showing Cox's Bazar and Rakhine state respectively.
Bangladesh and Myanmar on a map showing Cox’s Bazar and Rakhine state respectively. | Image: Al Jazeera

Arakan Army checkpoints are still in place and their troops are deployed as beforebut are not restricting inhabitant’s movements so severely.Residents of Ponnagyun, previously displaced by conflict had been resettled in their home villages. Though it will take some time to create an environment of trust between the two, if fails, clashes could break out again at any time.

Irrawaddy reported that Junta has lost at least 39 outposts of Rakhine with heavy casualties. Arakan Army also faced great casualties because of Junta’s air supremacy over them. As Junta successfully blocked almost all strategic areas of Rakhine, Arakan Army had no choice but to go for a ceasefire. On the other hand, Junta also agreed to a ceasefire to reduce their casualties here and focus on other areas like Sagaing and Karen. The ceasefire was a strategic decision for the parties.

But strategic importance of Rakhine truce has not ended here. The mediation of Yuhei Sasakawa has drawn special attention to the analysts.

Sasakawa is Japan’s special representative in Myanmar, with a responsibility to work towards the goal of national unity between the Myanmar government Ethnic armed groups. In 2013, the Japanese government officially gave him this responsibility. Yuhei Sasakawa is also the chairman of Nippon Foundation and Sasakawa Peace Foundation.Through his mediation Arakan was greatly relieved by ceasefire agreement in 2019 and 2020 also.

The successful negotiation of Sasakawa is creating a positive image of Japan to Myanmar’s  military, EAOs and NUG. This pleases not only Japan but also its ally, the United States. Two of the five stated main goals of the Sasakawa’s Peace Foundation are to strengthen Japan’s friendship with the United States and increasing Japan’s presence in Asia. These explains a lot. Japan and USA’s influence over Myanmar is surely uncomfortable for Beijing.

On the other hand, it’s not a coincident that, Sasakawa-brokered ceasefire and the Indian consul met with the Junta’s Rakhine Chief Minister to finalize the Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport Project. The diplomatic expansion of India, Japan and USA over Myanmar is expanding.

let’s come back to the Arakan Army and Junta again. The mistrust between this two is to be noticed even after the ceasefire. The Arakan Army has warned to walk out of the ceasefire if the junta does not end all blockades and travel restrictions in Rakhine. But the junta will watch the Arakan Army’s next steps with regard to collaborating with the EAOs and PDFs. Should the Arakan Army join hands with the NUG and the other EAOs, the junta could soon return to hostilities against the Arakan Army.

Whether or not to work with the NUG, is a difficult decision for the Arakan Army because previously the NLD designated the Arakan Army as a terrorist organization. On the other hand, regional actors like India and China, which have invested heavily in Rakhine State, will also put pressure on both the junta and the Arakan Army to keep the ceasefire alive. Military regime and the Arakan Army’s respond to that pressure remains to be seen.

Courtesy: Daily Observer, Bangladesh

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The writer is professor

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