Myanmar’s military staged a five-day show of strength, starting last Friday, with warships, helicopters and two submarines, leading to fears the military is preparing for a major battle with the Arakan Army (AA).
The junta-run newspaper, Myanma Alin (New light of Myanmar), said on Wednesday that the military exercise was carried out in the Bay of Bengal 1,300 miles (2,080 kilometers) off the coast of Rakhine state.
People’s Assembly member Pe Than, who is closely monitoring the military situation, said the exercise shows that the military is prepared to make full use of the navy if fighting breaks out with the AA in Rakhine.
“It is impossible to prevent international hostilities with such a force and there is no country planning a war with this country either,” he said “This is just an exercise to allow the systematic use of the navy in the event of a battle in Rakhine. The main thing is that they can show their strength.”
The drill was overseen by military council chairman Sr. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing. High-level members of the army, navy and air force attended on Tuesday.
Min Aung Hlaing ordered the warships to be constantly prepared for combat, according to comments carried in Wednesday’s edition of the Myanmar Alin Newspaper.
“The naval warships must be ready. Also weapons and weapons systems must be ready. The navy personnel must be ready. They also need to be constantly trained to be ready for battle, and these three levels of readiness must be maintained,” he said.
Sea Shield 2022 aimed to cover the 12 nautical miles (22.2 kilometers/13.8 miles) of Myanmar’s territorial waters and protect the Myanmar Exclusive Economic Zone at sea, the junta chairman said. Myanmar’s exclusive economic zone is adjacent to its territorial waters and extends for 200 nautical miles (370.4 kilometers/230 miles) from the coastal baseline.
One of the submarines used in the military drills, arrived in Kyaukphyu, Rakhine state, on May 31. Kyauk Phyu is home to some of China’s largest economic projects, and locals have criticized the military council for apparently preparing to protect Chinese businesses in the event of a battle with the AA.
AA spokesman, Khing Thukha gave an online news conference on June 14, saying that the military council is expanding its forces and weapons in Rakhine to prepare for a full-scale attack in the event of a renewed fighting with the AA.
Local residents said tensions have been further heightened due to arrests of AA members or sympathisers in retailiation for AA abductions of junta troops.
Last June, the AA abducted more than 10 police and soldiers and the junta responded by arresting 40 civilians from the four townships of Sittwe, Kyauktaw, Ponna Kyun and Mrauk-U.
The AA fought a fierce campaign against Myanmar’s military from December 2018 to November 2020, demanding autonomy for ethnic Arakanese.
More than 300 civilians were killed and more than 700 injured during the fighting in Rakhine state according to figures compiled by RFA.
The two sides agreed an informal ceasefire shortly before the coup on February 1, 2021 and an uneasy truce has held for more than a year. However, locals told RFA tensions have risen in the last two months, due to the arrests and the arrival of military reinforcements.
Tensions are simmering even outside Rakhine state since the AA also has a presence in Chin, Kayin and Shan states.
On Monday a military air strike killed six AA members and injured dozens when junta jets targeted a camp in Kayin (Karen) state near the Thailand-Myanmar border, a region controlled by AA allies the Karenni National Liberation Army.
According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs nearly 78,000 people have been forced to flee their homes in Rakhine and Chin states as of March 6 this year due to fighting between junta forces and the AA.
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