Conflict Alerts # 88, 13 May 2020
In the news
On 9 May, Myanmar's military, Tatmadaw, issued a statement announcing their call for a ceasefire from 10 May till 31 August. As stated by the Commander-in-Chief, the ceasefire will enable the people and the army to participate effectively to contain the COVID-19 pandemic. Tatmadaw has excluded the Rakhine and parts of the Chin provinces, where the Arakan Army (AA) operates.
On 11 May, the Brotherhood Alliance - a coalition of three-membered ethnic armed organisations (EAO), of which AA is part of, has requested Tatmadaw to not exclude these provinces from the unilateral ceasefire.
Issues at large
First, Tatmadaw's decision to exclude the region where the AA operates hints at their intention to continue the fight in the Rakhine. Perhaps Tatmadaw has declared the AA as a terrorist group compared to others that are being viewed as armed insurgent groups.
Second, the exclusion of a region makes the call for a ceasefire a façade and will fail. Earlier attempts like this failed; National Ceasefire Agreement and the 21st Century Panglong conferences excluded the members of the Brotherhood Alliance. They did not succeed.
Third, the ceasefire is declared by the military and not by the government highlights the firm grip of the military. The government should have made the announcement, long before when it started implementing the precautionary measures against the spread of the pandemic. The statement from Tatmadaw reiterates where the power centre is.
The conflict-torn Rakhine region needs a respite from the fight in order to prepare for the pandemic. The region lacks economic and medical facilities required to prevent the COVID-19 contagion and given the large-scale ongoing displacement, it is difficult to implement any precautionary steps to avoid the spread of the diseases.
Leaving Rakhin out of the ceasefire means, escalation of the conflict in this region. The AA's will garner popular support in the Rakhine province and also among the other ethnic minorities.
Politically, the above will impact the NLD in the provinces. In the 2015 elections, it won only nine seats; Arakan National party won 22. The sympathy for the AA, the continuation of violence, lack of political representation, and poor development in the region will cause the NLD to fail in the Rakhine state.
Aparupa Bhattacherjee is a Ph.D. Scholar at the School of Conflict and Security Studies in National Institute of Advanced Studies