A recent Burma Army report of an attack by “ARSA terrorists” on security forces in northern Maungdaw differs markedly from a video put out by ARSA of the same attack, raising suspicions about the authenticity of the incident.
On April 16, 2020, only a week after the Burma Army announced the implausible finding of an “ARSA terrorist camp” west of Khamaungseik, in northern Maungdaw, they reported that ARSA troops had attacked and killed policemen on April 15, in the same area.
According to the report on the Commander in Chief’s website, policemen riding two motorcycles, carrying “important documents” from Aung Zu to Khamaungseik, clashed with “about 30 ARSA terrorists,” two kilometers northwest of Khamaungseik. Security reinforcements then came and fought off the ARSA attackers, who retreated to the southwest, and some policemen lost their lives.
A follow up TV news report by the Democratic Voice of Burma, quoted an official from the Aung Zu Border Guard Police (BGP) camp, saying the dead were two BGP soldiers: 2nd Corporal Aung Aung and Private Si Thu Aung, whose two BA 63 rifles had also gone missing. The TV report showed a blurred image of a dead body.
The brief ARSA video, shared on social media a few days later, but clearly dated 15.04.2020, does not match with these reports. The first 29-second clip shows only one motorcycle, ridden by two plain-clothed men with no visible large weapons, being shot at by a couple of alleged ARSA troops lying in wait at the roadside. The other 25-second clip shows about ten uniformed ARSA troops shooting aimlessly along the side of the road, with no apparent concern for ammunition supply, shouting “Allah Akbar” (God is great).
The ARSA troops are shown walking towards the crashed motorcycle, but there is no close-up of the damaged vehicle or injured riders. There is no sign of any clash with the BGP, nor of any reinforcements arriving.
The discrepancies between the two accounts raise questions about what really happened.
It might be argued that there were two separate incidents, and that ARSA simply did not record the clash with the BGP motorcyclists, which took place after it shot at the civilian motorcycle. However, this appears unlikely, as filming an actual clash with Burmese security forces would have much greater propaganda value than an attack on civilians – which does no favors for the Rohingya cause, either locally or internationally.
It is much more feasible that the reports cover the same event, but the Burma Army embellished the facts. Clearly, their report of an attack on security forces, leaving two dead – which no independent journalists can verify — presents ARSA as a much more dangerous threat, justifying the ongoing security lockdown and military expansion in northern Maungdaw.
But further questions also need to be asked, about how a relatively large group of fully armed, uniformed ARSA fighters could have appeared in the middle of an open plain surrounded by Burmese security posts, and shoot randomly from the roadside, apparently without fear of repercussion.
The Khamaungseik valley has been completely depopulated of Rohingya since 2017, and is regularly patrolled by about 100 locally stationed Burma Army troops. If they had indeed found an “ARSA terrorist camp” in this location the previous week, why had they not tightened security in that area?
Given the logistical implausibility, one cannot help speculate that the Burma Army in fact allowed ARSA to stage this show of force, conveniently fulfilling the prediction made the previous week on the Commander in Chief’s website that “ARSA terrorists are infiltrating into Myanmar-Bangladesh border areas to commit acts of sabotage and to provoke clashes as the time for Myanmar to submit a report over issues between Myanmar and the Gambia in May, 2020 is looming.”
Which begs the question as to the level of collusion between ARSA and the Burmese security forces. Was the ARSA operation simply “allowed,” or in fact orchestrated by the Burma Army themselves?
For ARSA’s actions have no benefit whatsoever for the Rohingya people. Particularly at this critical time, why would any Rohingya in their right mind want to derail the ICJ process, and play precisely into the narrative used by the Burmese government as a pretext for their 2017 “clearance operations”—whereby civilian casualties were simply collateral damage in fighting off a terrorist onslaught, and not victims of genocide.
It is urgently needed for these questions to be asked, and for independent Burmese media to stop one-sidedly reporting government accounts that cannot be corroborated and make no sense from a ground perspective.