The Myanmar military on Wednesday denied that it is reinforcing troops in war-torn Rakhine state amid reports by civilians of a buildup of manpower, and said that its talks with the rebel Arakan Army are still underway to prevent further clashes in the region.
The northern part of the state has been ravaged by a two-year-old military conflict between Myanmar forces and the AA, killing about 300 civilians, injuring more than 600 others, and displacing about 230,000 people.
The two sides have agreed to an unofficial cease-fire that expires Thursday, a pact aimed at allowing the holding of elections that were cancelled in much of Rakhine last month.
Some of the estimated 8,000 displaced villagers who recently returned to their homes amid a break in the hostilities after the Nov. 8 national vote are now moving back into internal displaced persons (IDP) camps ahead of the truce’s expiration this week and signs that government troops are remobilizing in combat zones.
Myanmar military spokesman Major General Zaw Min Tun said the military has been working with AA troops to avoid armed combat, though there are growing concerns among local civilians that the fighting will resume after December and after a failure to hold elections in key Rakhine townships.
“We have been working to avoid the renewal of fighting in Rakhine state,” he said in response to a question by RFA at a press conference Wednesday in Naypyidaw. “There have been no reinforcements.”
“We believe that this temporary cease-fire and peace will lead to the IDPs returning to their homes from IDP camps and eventually progress in the peace process,” he said.
AA spokesman Khine Thukha also said that the two armies are trying to prevent fresh clashes, but that it depends on their negotiations.
“So far, both parties have maintained their current positions to avoid the renewal of fighting,” he said. “We are continuing the negotiations.”
“The prospect of preventing a renewal of fighting depends on the success of these negotiations,” he said. “If they take a positive approach, there will be more opportunities for peace.”
Khine Thukha declined to say whether the AA will extend the temporary cease-fire after Dec. 31.
No announcements on progress
Political analyst Maung Maung Soe said both the military and the AA should release statements on the progress of their talks to allay the concerns of civilians heading back to IDP camps.
“I don’t have any reports on [military] reinforcements, but I have heard reports of soldiers resupplying ammunition and food rations,” he said. “[But] so far, there have not been any announcements on the progress of peace negotiations, so it is understandable that local civilians are concerned about the return of armed fighting.”
“If they genuinely want to proceed with peace negotiations, they should inform the public through updates about their work,” he said.
Maung Maung Soe doubted that hostilities would resume given that both sides have expressed enthusiasm for meeting and securing a formal cease-fire agreement.
The Rakhine Ethnics Congress, an NGO based in the Rakhine state capital Sittwe that tallies internally displaced persons (IDPs) has estimated that more than 190,000 IDPs were still living in temporary camps as of Dec. 3.
Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.
This post was originally published on Radio Free.