After a two-year pause, the conflict between the Arakan Army (AA) and Myanmar's military junta has resurged in Rakhine. In the context of the ongoing nationwide armed protests against the Sit-tat, the military of Myanmar, AA's struggle for autonomy bears significance for all stakeholders in the region. The fate of more than three million people in Rakhine and more than one million Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh is now hanging in the balance.
How the conflict evolves in Rakhine will shape not only the future course of Myanmar, but also the regional and global power struggle surrounding the Bay of Bengal region. Bangladesh, located in the eye of the storm, can no longer be a passive onlooker.
In early June this year, tension between the AA and Sit-tat escalated following the reinforcement of junta troops across Rakhine, and the former's refusal to participate in peace talks. Since then, both sides have engaged in deadly offensives. In a recent social media post, Brig Gen Dr Nyo Twan Awng, deputy commander-in-chief of the AA, termed their return to war "a final war and decisive war" for building "the state of Arakan."
Founded in 2009, AA is a relatively new ethnic armed organisation (EAO). Starting with only 26 members and one gun, it now boasts having 30,000 troops under arms and controlling a major part of the Rakhine state. Their vision of restoring sovereignty of Arakan, which was lost to the Burmese Konbaung dynasty in 1784, has gained popular support from the Arakanese, who have historical grievances against the Burmese. Notably, in 1989, the military junta changed the name of Arakan to Rakhine.
Although the AA is led by Buddhist Rakhines who have a historical enmity with Muslim Rohingyas, they now seek to build an inclusive administration in Rakhine accommodating the latter. They have also assured the safe rehabilitation of Rohingya refugees. Experts believe that they will be an "ally" and "collaborator" for Rohingyas seeking justice and a peaceful homeland.