The Rohingya Muslim humanitarian tragedy in North Western Myanmar, which has displaced more than 300,000 people, has metamorphosed into an armed conflict between the Myanmarese army and Rohingya insurgents, believed to be foreign funded and equipped now.
Combined with the forced migration of thousands of Rohingya Muslims to Bangladesh, India and Thailand, the growth of a violent group among them could pose a serious security threat not just to Myanmar, but also to Bangladesh and India - countries already battling foreign-inspired and funded radical Islamist terror groups.
In an article in South Asian Monitor, the BBC’s expert on Myanmar, Larry Jagan, quotes Myanmarese and Asian intelligence sources to say that about 1000 Rohingya militants may have been trained in Bangladesh and in Rakhine (Myanmar) in the Mayu mountain range.
Who are they?
Rohingyas, also called Rakhine or Arakan Muslims, are not native to Myanmar in the same way as the Myanmarese and tribals like the Shans and Kachins are. They are Bengali speaking and culturally akin to Bengali Muslims of Bangladesh. But they have lived in North Western Myanmar for centuries as seafarers, traders and farmers.
However, during the independence struggle against the British in Myanmar and the Indian sub-continent, a section of Rakhine Muslims wanted the Rakhine area to be integrated with East Pakistan. This movement subsided following strong action against them by post independence Governments based in Yangon. But the memory of this pro-Pakistan movement still rankles in the Myanmarese mind creating a divide between the Buddhist Myanmarese and the Rakhine Muslims.
Coming to the present, commentator Larry Jagan says: “Regional Asian intelligence sources believe substantial funds have been poured in the Rohingya areas – largely through Mae Sot. But senior Myanmar intelligence officials are certain the arms – from Thailand — are being transported on fishing ships to Cox’s Bazaar in Bangladesh from Ranong, the hub of much of the human trafficking previously. Myanmar’s intelligence sources believe substantial weapons, including shoulder launchers – RPGs – are stockpiled in Bangladesh.”
“The Rohingyas are trained in camps on the outskirts of Cox’s Bazaar funded by Qatar, according to one of Myanmar’s most senior intelligence officers,” he adds.
However Kiren Rijiju, assured human rights workers that the Rohingyas would not be thrown out but only persuaded to return home in case they were found to be “illegal” entrants
The Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) claimed responsibility for the August 25 attacks on about 30 police and the army outposts .The attackers accused the Myanmar forces of killings and rape on a wide scale.
Observers worry that the latest attacks will prompt an even more aggressive army response and trigger communal clashes between Muslims and Buddhist ethnic Rakhines compounding the already bad humanitarian crisis in North Myanmar.
Spillover into neighbourhood
In recent years, as a result of periodic attacks or pogroms against Rakhine Muslims, about 290,000 of them had fled to Bangladesh putting a heavy strain on the latter’ slender resources. Of these, 90,000 came after the August 25 clash between the army and Rohingya militants.
According to Bangladeshi commentator Afsan Chowdhury: “Housing and feeding the refugees, which though partly externally funded, is the biggest problem for Bangladesh. Plans are on to shift them to an island though it faces resistance from several quarters. The rise of cross border crime particularly the drugs trade in which powerful politicians are now involved and it contributes to domestic crime and social instability. Then there is the fear of radical extremists rising in the camps and spilling over to Bangladesh mainland from the borders with drug trade profit funding.”
Bangladesh has taken up the issue of the displaced Rohingyas with Myanmar at the highest level, but to no avail. The Myanmarese leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, has in fact dismissed all criticism about maltreatment of the Rohingyas saying that the world is ignoring the other side of the story.
About 40,000 Rohingyas had fled to India causing tension in areas like Jammu in North Western India. Recently, the Indian government said that it would deport the illegal entrants on the grounds that they could be hosting some Islamic militants and drug traffickers.
According to The Guardian a circular from the Home Ministry said: “Illegal migrants are more vulnerable for getting recruited by terrorist organizations. Infiltration from Myanmar’s Rakhine state into Indian territory, especially in the recent years, besides being a burden on the limited resources of the country, also aggravates the security challenges posed.”
The Rohingyas are trained in camps on the outskirts of Cox’s Bazaar funded by Qatar
However, the junior minister of Home Affairs, Kiren Rijiju, assured human rights workers that the Rohingyas would not be thrown out but only persuaded to return home in case they were found to be
Kofi Annan’s Grim Report
Going into the roots of the conflict between the Rohingya Muslims and the Myanmarse State, an international commission headed by former UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, said in late August that the Rohingyas are unfairly denied citizenship and deprived in multifarious ways.
According to the commission’s final report, just 13,000 Muslims—of whom 9,000 are ethnic Kaman—have been recognized as full citizens or naturalized citizens, out of more than one million Muslims who are stateless in the Rakhine region.
“The population remains politically and economically marginalized and may provide fertile ground for radicalization, as local communities may become increasingly vulnerable to recruitment by extremists,” the Annan report warned.
Restrictions on freedom of movement for the Muslim community, including the confinement of approximately 120,000 people in IDP camps ,have detrimental effects on the level of economic activity in the state, the report pointed out.
“Such restrictions have created prohibitive barriers for Muslim businesses and labourers to enter the economy, and increased incentives for engaging in illicit commercial activities. Government officials take bribes in return for travel permits and commercial licences.”
“Approximately 120,000 Muslims are confined to IDP camps throughout the Rakhine state, a result of the violence in 2012. Efforts to facilitate the return or relocation of IDPs have shown little progress.”
“Access to health services in Rakhine is low, both for the Rakhine and Muslim population. The World Health Organization (WHO) has recommended that the minimum number of health workers to maintain a functional health system is 22 health workers per 10,000 inhabitants. Currently, there are only 5 health workers per 10,000 people in Rakhine, compared to the national average of 16 per
Bangladesh has taken up the issue of the displaced Rohingyas with Myanmar at the highest level
“Rakhine has a higher child mortality rate than the national average, and only 19 percent of women give birth in professional health facilities (compared with 37 percent nationally).The immunization coverage is among the lowest in the country, and there have been multiple outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases over the recent years, predominantly in the northern part of the state.”
“The nutritional status of children in Rakhine State is the worst in the country, with 38 percent of children stunted and 34 percent underweight.”
“With dissatisfaction and unrest brewing, Myanmar’s security forces face challenges from both Rakhine and Muslim non-state armed groups, such as the Arakan Army (AA) and the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA),” the Annan report said.
What should worry Myamnar’s neighbours is that the conflict could spill over the borders, with insurgents seeking sanctuaries.