YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — Myanmar has officially designated an armed ethnic rebel group known as the Arakan Army a terrorist organization.
The declaration, published in official notices in Tuesday’s newspapers, came after more than a year of bitter fighting between government forces and the guerrilla group, which represents the Buddhist Rakhine inhabitants of Rakhine state in western Myanmar. It is one of more than a dozen ethnic minorities in Myanmar seeking autonomy.
The notice says the Arakan Army and an affiliated organization, the United League of Arakan, “have caused serious losses of public security, lives and property, important infrastructures of the public and private sector, state-owned buildings, vehicles, equipment and materials.”
The Arakan Army says it is seeking self-determination. It has engaged in increasingly fierce combat with government forces since late 2018. It has formed alliances with several other armed ethnic rebel groups which have helped it keep the government off balance by staging joint attacks in other areas of the country.
In a statement, the group said the government declaration “indicates that the Myanmar colonial rulers do not have a policy to solve political problems with other non-Burmans by equitable and peaceful means. But it indicates (the intention) for a solution by force.” Burmans are the majority ethnic group in Myanmar and dominate the government and military.
Since getting independence from Britain in 1948, Myanmar has been wracked by fighting with minority groups in border areas seeking greater autonomy from the central government.
In the past three decades, the government has reached various cease-fire arrangements with many groups, but it is striving for a comprehensive, more permanent political situation. Most of the groups have so far rejected the government’s attempts at a settlement, and combat is ongoing in northern and western areas of the country.
Rakhine state is best known for a brutal counterinsurgency campaign by the military against the Muslim Rohingya minority which caused more than 700,000 to flee to neighboring Bangladesh. The much less organized and poorly armed Rohingya insurgents have been largely inactive since 2017.
An official designation as a terrorist group allows it to be termed illegal. A separate government notice on Tuesday declared the Arakan Army and its affiliate to be unlawful organizations, which criminalizes contact with them.