It seems like the ‘Arakan Army or AA,’ a Rakhine Buddhist rebel group operating in northern Arakan state known as traditional Rohingya majority areas and controlling most of it today, is taking a leaf straight out of Myanmar military’s psychological operations playbook. AA’s leadership plainly being dismissive of continuous reports of the atrocities by their troops on Rohingya Genocide survivors and calling the reports ‘deceptive propaganda, craps’ do not set a good precedent for them, those sufferings under their control, all those concerned and the region.
If a picture says a thousand words, a video shows a thousand pictures. How many words does this video telling you? It is how it was “ boys from the Lama village and AA soldiers playing soccer”by the Lemro river bank. Don’t let yourself be taken by the “deceptive propagandas.” pic.twitter.com/24IOsAbmnN
— Twan Mrat Naing (@TwanMrat) August 4, 2021
It does not bode well for an inclusive self-administrative or autonomous Arakan state, which the group claims to be fighting for. Any responsible leader would state, upon reports of abuses by his troops, “we shall investigate and take necessary actions” and so on. Though there were reports of abuses and crimes by AA on Rohingyas including abductions, killings and extortion — for example, Myanmar military and AA accused each other of killing this well educated youth from Mrauk-U Township n February 19, 2020.
However, it was later proven they were AAs who committed the killing – earlier since it entered into fighting with the Myanmar military in late 2018, the abuses were not as widespread as they are today. The abuses have reached to new heights since February 1, the day when the Myanmar military chief staged a coup d’etat sending the country into chaos. Reports from reliable sources suggest that post the coup, AA and the Myanmar military entered into an (undeclared) ceasefire, an agreement under which the ‘terrorist’ label on the AA was removed, hundreds of AA members or affiliated people were released (on February 12) along with high profile politicians like Dr. Aye Maung. This report can be supported by the fact that how AA didn’t engage in a single fight with the Junta forces at a time when the whole country (including Rohingya) are all out repelling the junta; and how, in turn, the junta forces have not tried to stop increasing moves by the AA to expand its influence and operations in Arakan state, especially in the north.
Today, the AA rebels are indulging in abduction, extortion, killing, rapes (against Rohingya women), besieging and occupying their villages, cutting them off from their livelihood, confiscating their lands and many other forms of atrocities. On August 24, 2021, hundreds of AA rebels and their followers from the Rakhine community besieged the Rohingya village of “Letma” in Minbya Township for the villagers were not able to fulfill their demand to pay Kyat 15,000 per animal sacrifice on Eidul Adha (Muslim festival) which they called tax and about 2 Kilograms of pure meat. During the siege, they cut off villagers’ essential supply lines; detained, beat and tortured them; and abused the places of worship.
The siege was lifted following the villagers managed to report the atrocities, reports were published on news website and other social media posts by young Rohingya activists. (Report HERE). That was a welcoming move, despite that atrocities on Rohingya villages in nearby regions are still going on and those (from Letma village) who had fled in fear of AA’s abduction and killing not able to return to their homes. However, major general Twan Mrat Naing, the commander of AA, took to twitter and apparently labeled the villagers (of Letma) ‘terrorists, criminals’ and that his troops were simply taking actions against those. In the same intimidating tweet, he also apparently threatened that it wouldn’t go well for Rohingyas if they “turn them into their enemy” implying that the Rohingyas would have to toe their lines to survive.
We promote ethnic diversity and religious tolerance but can’t afford to provide safe haven and breeding ground for the terrorists and criminal gangs . Be aware that you are just about to turn your best friend into enemy by using your best tool of disinformation .
— Twan Mrat Naing (@TwanMrat) August 1, 2021
How ironic it is for someone like him to label those surviving from Genocide ‘terrorists, criminals’ when the same AA was officially labeled as such by Myanmar’s junta not long ago! It seemed convenient for him to label the villagers ‘terrorists’ and indulge in fear-mongering that Rohingya could be bad because of their religion and for that matter, his troops were simply taking actions. Whatsoever might be the reason behind that, it was highly irresponsible, fear mongering and dangerous for kind of a leadership image he’s been trying to carve out for himself. Following that, the Burma Campaign UK, known for its pro-democracy campaigns focused on Myanmar, released a report urging the AA to stop the siege of the Rohingya village and respect human rights of all. But the truth is that it could only report merely the tip of the iceberg. Apparently under the pressure of the report, AA’s leader took to twitter again and called the report loads of ‘craps.’
Sensationalism and politicization of the bias HR activism . Disingenuously validating the criminal gangs on our soil and sowing the seeds of further division . What an odious craps!
— Twan Mrat Naing (@TwanMrat) August 3, 2021
The Burma Campaign UK was accused of sensationalizing and politicizing HR activism and validating ‘criminal gangs’ referring to the villagers. Since then, the AA leadership has gone into a PR overdrive and begun to indulge in the Myanmar military style psychological operations. It has begun to use domestic Rakhine and Burmese media, both in Burmese and in English, at its disposal to extend its propaganda and discredit independent reports by citizen journalists and some Rohingya media.
On the ground level, its troops have gone berserk and begun to force or coerce Rohingya villagers, their village administrators and people in charge of religious affairs — in the villages they have occupied or taken control of — to give statements to suit into the narrative earlier set by AA leader Maj. Gen. Twan Mrat Naing (i.e. the narrative that they were simply carrying out operations against “criminals, terrorists, robbers, cow thieves etc.”) They have begun to coerce villagers to give interviews to Burmese media channels, while also recording the statements taken under the coercion.
Look at the following incidents. In an interview with Western News on August 5, a Burmese media channel, AA’s spokesperson Khine Thuka denied that AA collected any money from Rohingyas in the name of tax. (Read or listen to the interview HERE). The very next day, the village administrator, U Shwe Maung alias Osman, in an apparently planned interview with the same channel, said that the villagers paid Kyat 15,000 per sacrifice on Eidul Adha (Muslim festival) to the AA. That, in the heat of the moment, the village administrator, accidentally admitted about AA’s money extortion case, something which AA is trying to conceal through denials. (Listen HERE after 6 mins 30 secs). It exposes how AA and for once, it has gotten into their own trap.
These kinds of psychological operations and propaganda campaigns are all too familiar with anyone observing the Rohingya situation (since the violence in June 2012). These are deceptive methods and plots already tried by the Myanmar military and often, they have got caught lying red-handed. In the absence of independent media and international observers, a small minority group of people living under the terror of two occupying forces — the Myanmar military and now AA – when held at a gun point, they have no choice but to give statements in their favor.
What appears more horrifying is that AA indulging in these propaganda campaigns and PsyOps through staging fake events and coercion seems not only to discredit independent reports by citizen journalists and some Rohingya media and damage their reputation but also to set the narrative mentioned above to persecute the Rohingya people further. While it is on a propaganda onslaught, it continues crimes and atrocities on the ground: from kidnapping and demanding ransom for their releases to rampant killings. And they would demand around Kyat 10 Million (equivalent of US$ 9,000) to release a person, which is too big an amount for an ordinary Rohingya to afford (where daily average income is $4-$5). [Look at this latest incident reported HERE.]
All these atrocities on remaining Rohingya Genocide survivors, erasing evidences of the crimes, forcefully preventing the villagers and propaganda campaign are being carried out in the face of provisional measures on Myanmar by the International Court of Justice (ICJ). The Rohingya people are protected under the ICJ’s provisional measures, any genocidal acts on them needs to be ceased and obstructing evidence of the crimes is also tantamount to the violation of the ICJ’s provisional measures.
M.S. Anwar is a journalist has been writing and reporting on Arakan region and beyond since 2012. He could be reached on twitter: @YoursRohingya.