Authorities in Myanmar say close to 100 people have been killed since Friday when armed men, reportedly from the ArakanRohynga Salvation Army (ARSA), launched a pre-dawn raid on police outposts in the conflict region and this has been the main cause of the latest violence in Arakan. According to one report, “The army has declared a war against ‘terrorism’, encircling the townships of Maungdaw, Buthidaung and Rathedaung, home to around 800,000 people, and imposed a curfew from dusk to dawn” perhaps to deepen further its military actions upon the most persecuted and forgotten community, caged.
Rights groups have reportedthat close to 800 men, women and children have been killed and the latest violence has also triggered another refugee surge across the border towards Bangladesh. The recently published photo of a drowned and floating Rohynga baby reveals the state of desperateness that has afflicted the fleeting Rohyngas.
Satellite data accessed by the Human Rights Watch confirms the current carnage. It shows “widespread fires burning in at least 10 areas in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, following a military crackdown on the country’s Rohingya Muslim population.”
Rohyngas accuse Myanmar government and report that in the broad day light and also during night, in the cover of curfew “soldiers are shooting indiscriminately at unarmed men, women and children and carrying out arson attacks”. Myanmar authorities however, blame ARSA “extremist terrorists” for the killings and also for the fires.
However,given Myanmar’s past record it is not hard to sense the truth and also the fact that Myanmar government would not allow any neutral monitors on the ground confirms the claims of carnage made by both Rohyngas as well as the rights groups. Furthermore, de facto head of Myanmar government, Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Su Kyi’s denial of the claims and her refusal to meet any journalist that asks questions about Royngas is an indication of Myanmar government’s discomfort with the truth.
Until now Myanmar government has been pretty consistent in its treatment of Rohyngas – persistent persecution, insistent denial and systematic refusal to permit neutral probe. Looks like Myanmar’s ultimate aim is to kill and frighten the Rohyngas so that they depopulate themselves from the region on their own accord. With international inaction and apathy, this looks more and more like a looming possibility. UN agrees, it believes that Myanmar army’s response amounts to “ethnic cleansing”.
In all these, sudden appearance of ARSA (ArakanRohynga Salvation Army) in the scene is worrying if not intriguing.
We don’t know much about ASRA. Is this something that has emerged out of desperation from within or is this something that has been engineered by the authority? ASRA’s spokesman however claims that it is a force from within created to “to defend, salvage and protect Rohingya community in Arakan with our best capacities as we have the legitimate right under international law to defend ourselves in line with the principle of self-defense.”Available information suggests that like the Tamil Tigers its sponsors are expatriate Rohyngas.
While I fully support ASRA’s motivation and their resolve to fight for the cause of Rohynga salvation, they have to be careful how they pursue their goals. Understandably, they have only limited resources and with non-existent international support they can at the most kill and injure few Myanmar soldiers but by no means their actions would make Myanmar authority neither capitulatenor compromise. On the other hand, as is conceivable, Myanmar government’s response to their misadventures would be harsh and would intensify miseries of the very people that they are trying to ‘defend’. Furthermore and this is something that ASRA needs to consider carefully, that their actions may now provide perfect raison d’etre to Myanmar government to justify, indeed morally, its violence. As Rohyngas are Muslims, in the current international political climate of Islamophobia, it would be only too easy to paint ARSA and by extension, the wider Rohyngas as ‘Islamic Terrorists’and thus turn victims into villains and real villains into virtuous. Rohyngas will be like the Palestinians, demonized and persecuted with impunity and with twisted morality!
In the recent melee, the real loser – morally that is – seems to be Bangladesh. Unlike Thailand which has opened its border to Rohyngya refugees Bangladesh has proposed joint military operations with Myanmar Army against the Rohingya fighters. Sadly, instead of finding a permanent solution for the RohyngasBangladesh is opting to do the most despicable – join the persecutors to in killing mission.
Myanmar has tried violence as remedy of Rohynga issue for the last several decades with no effect and more violence is unlikely to give them anything better. However, Myanmar’s addiction to violent persecutiondrives one home truth, solution will not come from them. It has to come from outside. International community has to play a much stronger role, otherwise as someonehas argued recently, “like other stateless and unrepresented Muslims, [the Rohingyas] are at risk of producing a persistent terrorist threat” that at the end would not only destabilize Myanmar but also its neighbours.
Thusgiven Myanmar government’s consistent refusal to do something more conciliatory and dignified about the issueand also given that it even denies any wrong-doingsuggests that conventional diplomacy would not work. Something “out-of-the-ordinary” is needed and again, given trust deficits on both sides it may behelpful if not more permanent to explore possibilities of setting up an autonomous unit for Rohyngasin areas where most of them live and administer it under the joint governance of a UN peace-keeping force (or a multi-national regional force – Malaysia has indicated its intention to join a regional solution)anda civilian administration made up of Rohingyas and Myanmar authorities – aone-country-two-system solution.
The author is a former senior UN policy manager