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Japanese peacemaker brokers rare but shaky truce between Myanmar’s military and Rakhine ethnic group

The rare breakthrough is much-needed relief for communities in restive Rakhine but an ethnic militia spokesperson said fighting could still break out “any time”.

Japanese peacemaker brokers rare but shaky truce between Myanmar’s military and Rakhine ethnic group

FILE: A Myanmar border guard stands near a group of Rohingya Muslims in front of their homes in Buthidaung township, Rakhine state, during a government-organised visit for journalists on Jan 25, 2019. (AFP/Richard Sargent)

When Japanese peacemaker Yohei Sasakawa visited Myanmar’s western state of Rakhine earlier this month, he found relative calm in the usually volatile region.

A deal he had helped broker between the Myanmar military government and one of the most powerful ethnic armed groups last November had brought about a rare but shaky humanitarian truce.

It is a different picture from what Rakhine is infamously known for – a state where more than 700,000 Rohingyas were driven out during a violent military crackdown in 2017.

More recently, heightened hostilities between the Myanmar army and the local ethnic forces have sent residents fleeing.

In May last year, the Arakan Army – a major ethnic militia in Rakhine – intensified violent clashes with the Myanmar military, also known as the Tatmadaw. 

Mr Sasakawa, Japan’s special envoy for national reconciliation in Myanmar, managed to convince both sides to agree to a temporary ceasefire about three months ago.

“The fact that the Arakan Army and the Myanmar military have a mechanism in place to put an end to even small incidents, has produced excellent results where no problems or conflicts have arisen,” Mr Sasakawa told CNA.


The 84-year-old is also the chairman of non-profit philanthropic organisation Nippon Foundation, which has worked with different communities on various causes around the world.

Since his appointment by Japan’s government to the position of special envoy in 2013, he has meditated peace talks between Myanmar’s ethnic minority groups and the military.

In his most recent visit to Rakhine on Feb 4, Mr Sasakawa distributed blankets and other essentials to people who were internally displaced by violence and housed at camps.

Since Myanmar’s army seized power from the elected government of democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi more than two years ago, tensions have increasingly flared between the military junta and armed ethnic groups.

The bloodshed since the coup has destroyed tens of thousands of homes and plunged the country into a humanitarian crisis.

While international efforts to help end the political crisis have persisted, a stalemate remains.


Mr Sasakawa’s rare breakthrough in Rakhine was much-needed relief for communities in the restive region.

However, a Arakan Army spokesperson told independent news service Myanmar Now that the informal ceasefire was temporary, and that any move by the military could cause fighting to break out “any time”.

Yohei Sasakawa, Japan’s special envoy for national reconciliation in Myanmar and chairman of the Nippon Foundation, speaks during an interview with CNA.

Mr Sasakawa has visited Myanmar multiple times, both before and after the February 2021 coup. He continues to meet with military chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, whom many in the international community deem to be persona non grata.

While some consider Mr Sasakawa’s meetings as legitimising the military’s rule in Myanmar, he sees it as an uphill battle to restore peace in the country, and said he will continue to subscribe to his philosophy of “never giving up”.

“I want to enrich my life based on my beliefs. And I want to help as many people as possible,” he said.

Source: CNA/dn(ja)


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