In the wake of the attack on a helicopter carrying Union Minister of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement Dr. Win Myat Aye and Rakhine State government Chief Minister Nyi Pu on February 19, Mizzima contacted the Arakan Army for comment.
Arakan Army admitted firing on this helicopter and claimed that they did not know civilian officials were travelling on it on that day.
In the tenure of this National League for Democracy-led government this is the first ever such incident of a helicopter carrying government officials being hit by gunfire.
On the other hand, the fighting between Tatmadaw (Defence Services) and AA has been raging almost daily in Kyauktaw Township, Rakhine State leading to food shortages in neigbouring Paletwa Township in Chin State.
Mizzima senior reporter Soe Thu Aung contacted AA spokesman Khaing Thu Kha for an interview with him. The interview is presented as follows:
Q: We heard that the AA fired on helicopter carrying a union minister and the Rakhine State government Chief Minister. Why did this incident happen?
A: As everybody knows, Myanmar government troops are attacking our positions almost every day by helicopter and mortar fire. This is the natural thing in this situation where a military helicopter flew over our troops and positions and would be targeted.
So we issued press statement yesterday in which we urged all civilian officials, NGOs/INGOs not to use military vehicles especially helicopters in their travels in our State. And also we requested these civilians not to travel with military personnel together.
A: So did AA fire on the helicopter carrying the union minister?
A: Yes, of course. We did not know the union minister was travelling on this helicopter. We knew about it only when the media covered this news. One is certain, we fired only on the military helicopter because these military helicopters and jet fighters fired on our troops and our positions almost daily so this is the natural situation we will return fire when they fly over us.
Q: In travels by union minister and above levels, there will be security escorts with them and also they sometimes use military helicopters and vehicles in their travels. Now the AA has issued warning against use of military vehicles and helicopters by civilian officials. So what do the officials have to do?
A: This is their responsibility to consider for their safety and security. As for us, we have fierce fighting with them. They are using jet fighters and military helicopters in attacks against our forces. And also their naval boats are firing on us by using naval guns almost daily. In this situation, we have to issue this warning statement urging and requesting civilian officials and NGOs/INGOs not to use these military vehicles, vessels and helicopters in their travels. It is up to them for their choice. We have nothing to say if they choose to travel with military personnel in military vehicles and helicopters as they think it will be better for their safety and security.
Q: I’d like to know one more thing. Sometimes these military personnel use civilian vessels and vehicles. If the civilians are not allowed to travel with them together, their journeys will be delayed. So will it be practical?
A: As I said you before, we have already told them not to travel with military personnel together. Sometimes these military personnel use civilian vessels and vehicles in their travels by disguising as civilians. We shall routinely inspect these vehicles and vessels and we will detain those persons who are related with the military if they are found in these civilian vehicles. We have already issued warning statemenst to people on this issue. If they travel again with military personnel together even after this warning statement, it will be up to them for their own choice.
Q: Another issue is shortage of food supplies. We heard that the local people are facing the problem of shortage of food supplies in Paletwa. How about the battle situation there? Can the local people carry the food supplies freely now?
A: We have already given permission on this issue. As we said in our statement issued yesterday, we will not make any prohibitions on transport of these food supplies for local people. We have already made necessary plans to give protection and security cover for these transportations. We have nothing to do on these food supplies and general merchandise transportations unless they are for military rations and military use. We will do our best for giving such assistance to them.
Q: How can you distinguish which one is for military rations and which one is for local people’s use?
A: Two warring factions can know about these things. We always receive information on how many food supplies are being carried for military or for civilian use. So we said like that. And also the civilians must not carry military food supplies along with theirs when the military request them to do so.