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Avoiding a Return to War in Myanmar’s Rakhine State

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An unofficial ceasefire has kept Rakhine State quiet compared to much of Myanmar following the 2021 coup. But friction is building between the military and ethnic Rakhine fighters. The parties should strike a formal deal to avert a return to war.

What’s new? After an informal ceasefire in late 2020, the Arakan Army used the lull in fighting to consolidate control of much of central and northern Rakhine State. Distracted by fallout from the 2021 coup, Myanmar’s military did little to oppose it at first, but rising tensions may lead to renewed combat.

Why does it matter? Many Rakhine State residents, including some Rohingya, have welcomed the shift to Arakan Army control, but the situation remains fraught. The ceasefire is fragile and the Arakan Army has grown significantly more powerful over the past eighteen months. A return to conflict would have devastating consequences for everyone in Rakhine.

What should be done? The Myanmar military and Arakan Army should avoid provoking a new war and formalise their ceasefire instead. The Arakan Army should eschew restrictions on humanitarian aid organisations, which should better coordinate their dealings with the group. Naypyitaw and Dhaka should open dialogue with the Arakan Army on Rohingya repatriation.