Myanmar army to launch ‘crackdown’ on rebels

Myanmar's government spokesman Zaw Htay talks to media during a press briefing at the Presidential Palace in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, on Monday, Jan. 7, 2019. (AP)
Updated 08 January 2019
0

Myanmar army to launch ‘crackdown’ on rebels

  • Western Rakhine state has seen a series of clashes in recent weeks between security forces and the Arakan Army
  • Some 4,500 people have been displaced by the recent weeks of violence

NAYPYIDAW, Myanmar: Myanmar has called on its military to "launch operations" against ethnic Rakhine rebels behind a deadly attack on four police stations last week, a government spokesman said Monday, as a surge of violence forces thousands more from their homes.
The country's troubled western Rakhine state has seen a series of clashes in recent weeks between security forces and the Arakan Army (AA), an armed group calling for more autonomy for the state's ethnic Rakhine Buddhist population.
The area is one of the poorest in Myanmar and is scarred by deep ethnic and religious hatred.
A brutal army campaign in 2017 forced hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims over the border into Bangladesh, operations justified by the army as a way to stamp out Rohingya militants.
The latest violence by ethnic Rakhine rebels culminated on Friday — Myanmar's Independence Day — in brazen pre-dawn raids on four police posts in Buthidaung township near the Bangladesh border.
Authorities said that the attack by hundreds of militants left 13 police officers dead and nine wounded before the army, known locally as the Tatmadaw, were able to provide back-up.
The AA said that three of its fighters had been killed, accusing the military of using the police stations as a base from which to fire heavy artillery.
"The president's office has already instructed the Tatmadaw to launch operations to crack down on the insurgents," government spokesman Zaw Htay told reporters in the capital Naypyidaw.
Some 4,500 people have been displaced by the recent weeks of violence, the UN's humanitarian agency said on Monday.
Over the weekend, people streamed to nearby monasteries and other makeshift camps to escape the crossfire, carrying infants and bags of belongings.
The increase in fighting comes just two weeks after the military declared a four-month ceasefire with a number of armed groups in Kachin and Shan states on the other side of the country.
But Rakhine was a notable exception, and army operations against the AA have continued.
Myanmar's civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi stated that the peace process would be her top priority after her party swept to power in landmark 2015 elections.
There are around two dozen conflicts festering around the country's restive borderlands, some of which date back 70 years to when the nation declared independence from colonial power Britain.
Independent analyst David Mathieson told AFP the reasons behind the recent uptick in violence were still largely opaque.
But he said the fighting could mean that greater numbers of AA fighters have "infiltrated the borderlands and are extending their reach" in what he described as "classic guerrilla strategy".
The AA has expanded its ranks since its formation in 2009 and is now believed to have several thousand recruits.
Zaw Htay, the government spokesman, called on ethnic Rakhine people not to back the rebels.
"Consider Rakhine's future deeply. Think carefully about the future you want to see before giving them your support," he said.


Indonesia palm oil growers threaten retaliation over EU ‘intimidation’

Updated 44 min 34 sec ago
0

Indonesia palm oil growers threaten retaliation over EU ‘intimidation’

  • Earlier this week, Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs, Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan, warned that if the EU implements a ban on palm oil imports, Indonesia would retaliate strongly with possible bans on European products
  • Indonesia and Malaysia together produce about 85 percent of the world’s palm oil

JAKARTA: Biofuel producers in Indonesia called on the Indonesian government and EU to find a “win-win solution” to a dispute over legislation that will phase out palm oil manufacturing in the region, risking jobs and billions of dollars in revenue.
Earlier this week, Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs, Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan, warned that if the EU implements a ban on palm oil imports, Indonesia would retaliate strongly with possible bans on European products, including passengers jets, train coaches, and motor vehicles.
“We want a win-win solution. Retaliation is not a favorable option but, eventually, what else can we do? It could become necessary if we keep being intimidated,” said Master Parulian Tumanggor, chairman of the Indonesia’s Biodiesel Producers Association.
“If they stop biofuel, millions (of workers and farmers) will become unemployed. We don’t want that,” he added.
Pandjaitan said that with Indonesia’s aviation industry expected to expand threefold by 2034, the country will require about 2,500 aircraft in the next two decades — a big market for European companies.
Aircraft demand from Indonesia is worth more than $40 billion and it will create millions of jobs.
“It’s a matter of survival. If they treat us like this, we will retaliate strongly. We are not a poor country, we are a developing country and we have a big potential,” Pandjaitan said in a briefing with the EU ambassador to Indonesia, Vincent Guerend, and European investors.
Darmin Nasution, chief economic minister, said Indonesia is considering a challenge to the EU legislation via the World Trade Organization, and will seek support from the Council of Palm Oil Producing Countries and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
Indonesia and Malaysia together produce about 85 percent of the world’s palm oil.
Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi spoke with her Malaysian counterpart, Saifuddin Abdullah, on the sidelines of Organization of Islamic Cooperation emergency meeting in Istanbul on Friday.
“We agreed to work together to fight against discrimination of palm oil in the EU,” she said via Twitter.
Nasution said palm oil contributed $17.89 billion to Indonesia’s economy in 2018 and almost 20 million workers depended on the plantations for their livelihood.
On March 13 the European Commission adopted new rules on biofuels based on sustainability criteria with a two-month scrutiny period. The EU said “best available scientific data” show palm oil plantations are a major cause of deforestation and climate change.
Palm oil plantations in Indonesia have resulted in massive deforestation on the islands of Sumatra and Kalimantan.
Guerend acknowledged the importance of palm oil to Indonesia in terms of jobs, but said that there was some flexibility in the regulation.
“It will be further modified in a few years’ time. It’s not cast in stone forever as the industry is dynamic, expanding, and reforming, and we take that into account,” he said.
“Our invitation for everyone is to work on sustainability because it’s in everybody’s interest,” he added.