The Myanmar government has resumed its controversial internet blackout in new townships in an effort to hinder Arakan Army rebels. On February 3, the government ordered telecom providers to suspend service in Rakhine’s Maungdaw, Buthidaung, Rathedaung and Myebon and Chin’s Paletwa townships. Those townships had already experienced an internet blackout in August of last year. The measure was meant to hamper the intelligence of the Arakan Army, but was criticized by journalists and human rights groups, including the United Nations, for its toll on local communities. Recently, the Arakan Army has made new gains in Rakhine and southern Chin State, prompting the government to once again restrict internet in conflict zones.
The Arakan Army is a Buddhist separatist group seeking greater political autonomy for ethnic Rakhine people. Last year, it redoubled its efforts in the region, launching guerrilla raids on army and police transports and taking hundreds of hostages. The conflict has led to the deaths of hundreds and displaced thousands of civilians. Both sides blame the other for the collateral damage, yet in recent months human rights groups in rebel-held territory have accused the AA of arrests, forced labor, sexual violence and executions in civilian communities.
The situation in Rakhine State has been a political black eye for Myanmar in general. Conflicts with the AA and the Muslim Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, as well as the refugee crisis on its western border, have contributed to a general miasma of instability, driving away tourists and foreign investors.