The commander of the Arakan Army (AA) warned the ethnic armed organisation’s members to ready themselves for war against the junta this week after a recent escalation of the military’s occupation of and activities in Rakhine State.
Gen Twan Mrat Naing made the statement in a speech on Sunday commemorating the AA’s 13th anniversary in Laiza, Kachin State—the headquarters of the Kachin Independence Army, an AA ally.
“Comrades, never let your guard down. Please be ready to go to war as soon as we have received orders from the central command,” he said at the event.
The AA was founded in April 2009 with 26 members and reportedly one gun between them.
At the March funeral for Peng Jiasheng, the founder of the ethnic Kokang Myanmar Democratic Alliance Army—another AA ally—Twan Mrat Naing said that his armed group had grown to comprise some 80,000 troops.
Myanmar Now is unable to verify the claim.
A commemoration for the AA’s founding was also held in Buthidaung Township in northern Rakhine State, the region where several clashes have taken place between the junta’s forces and the AA in recent months.
According to local sources, the military has been increasing operations in the townships of Buthidaung, Kyauktaw, Maungdaw, Ponnagyun and Rathedaung, as well as the state’s southern townships of Kyaukphyu, Taungup and Yanbye.
A man from Buthidaung told Myanmar Now that he had seen military boats sending reinforcements along the Pyone Ma stream from the Nat River in northern Maungdaw.
“We saw soldiers coming into Tharyar Kone and Thinbawla villages in groups of 30, 40, and 50,” he said, referring to two southern Maungdaw villages across the township border from Buthidaung.
Thinbawla and Tharyar Kone are located within two miles of the site of a major February clash between the military and the AA.
After the coup in February 2021, the AA largely opted out of the nationwide armed struggle against the junta and sought to strengthen its administrative power across Rakhine State.
However, AA spokesperson Khaing Thukha said in a press conference earlier this year that the junta had been disrupting the AA’s attempts to establish this jurisdiction, and accused them of carrying out searches of departmental offices under its political wing—the United League of Arakan (ULA)—in Kyaukphyu, Taungup and Yanbe. Several such offices had to subsequently be closed, he added.
“They threatened civilians saying they would take action against them if they filed cases in the ULA courts. They also summoned the plaintiffs that filed cases with the ULA’s legal department and told them to only file cases in the junta courts,” Khaing Thukha explained.
Another Buthidaung local confirmed that junta personnel had warned village administrators in northern Rakhine to only engage with military mechanisms on such affairs.
“The junta-appointed township general administrator summoned the village administrators and told them to not file complaints with the AA as they were not the ‘official government,’” he said.
Local news outlets reported that the military arrested several 100-household administrators in Sittwe Township’s Aung Taing village tract on April 9 after accusing them of having ties to the AA.
Villagers in the state fear that the current tension will lead to renewed fighting between the forces.
“The AA warned the people to stock up on rice and coal as battles could break out,” a third man from Buthidaung told Myanmar Now last month.
The latest tensions began last November, around one year after the AA and military entered into an informal ceasefire agreement after two years of fierce fighting that displaced thousands of civilians.