by Crisis Group 9 June 2020
Fighting in Myanmar’s Rakhine State is taking a rising toll. It will hinder any effort to contain COVID-19 or resolve the Rohingya crisis. Rather than trying to defeat the Arakan Army, Naypyitaw should negotiate with ethnic Rakhine, endeavouring to convince them of electoral democracy’s benefits.
What’s new? The eighteen-month armed conflict between state forces and the Arakan Army in Rakhine State is Myanmar’s most intense in years. It shows no sign of de-escalation and the COVID-19 threat has not focused the parties’ minds on peace. The government’s designation of the group as terrorist will make matters worse.
Why does it matter? The conflict is taking a heavy toll on civilians, with a peaceful settlement appearing more remote than ever. Without a settlement, the future of Rakhine State looks bleak, and addressing the state’s other major crisis, the situation of the Rohingya, will be even more difficult.
What should be done? The conflict cannot be resolved on the battlefield. Rather than trying to prevail militarily and relying on inadequate humanitarian measures to cushion the blow, the government needs a political strategy to address Rakhine grievances and give the community renewed hope that electoral democracy can help them achieve their aspirations.