Burma’s Arakan Army Replicates Russia’s Propaganda Playbook, Argues Zarni

October 11, 2022

While the world’s attention is fixated on the escalating NATO-Russia proxy war taking place on Ukraine’s soil, with its nuclear saber-rattling and domino effect on the world’s economy, on Burma’s western front, the decades-old triangular conflict deserves some serious attention as the deeply troubled country’s civil war has widened to engulf external powers, including the neighbouring country of Bangladesh.


This appears to be a case wherein one of Burma’s key actors, namely the Arakan Army (AA) – with its Buddhist Rakhine nationalist base – is replicating Vladimir Putin’s tactical moves in Ukraine.


The AA is a separatist ethnic militia estimated to be 30,000-strong, and has been equipped with Chinese-made weapons. Its ethno-political base of Rakhine known for their genocidal racism and collaborative deeds against the Rohingya – reportedly base themselves among Rohingya villages – as opposed to their own Buddhist communities from which the AA draws its rank-and-file fighters.


Rohingya activists in the diaspora have kept quiet about this deeply troubling development – that the AA have encamped themselves among Rohingya communities. Some tried to give the impression of impartiality that Rohingyas were being caught in the “crossfire” between the AA and the genocidal Burma Army. Understandably, Rohingyas are between a rock and a hard place – insofar as the collaborators in genocide against their communities are now fighting ferociously against each other.


But that silence, and that “crossfire” narrative, came to a loud end when a Rakhine sniper killed Shekul Islam, a 45-year-old Rohingya community leader and educator who happened to be a close relative (uncle) of Wai Wai Nu, a celebrated human rights activist.


Khaing Thukha, the AA spokesperson, denied responsibility for the killing and shifted the blame onto the Burma Army while speaking to RFA Burmese on Oct. 9. Tun Khin, president of the UK-based Burmese Rohingya Organization – UK (BROUK), took to Twitter: “Having spoken to the sources on the ground, it is clear that AA is responsible for (the) killing ….”


The problem is incomparably bigger than the murder of a Rohingya leader and which party – the AA or the Burma Army – was behind the killing. Rather, it is the evidently sinister use of Rohingya villages and neighbourhoods along the Burma-Bangladesh border, as the chosen battlefield.


Throughout my recent travels in the former Yugoslavia, I have had numerous in-depth discussions with my scholar friends who survived the “Balk