International pressure is mounting on the Aung San Suu Kyi government in Myanmar to stop atrocities against the Rohingya Muslims in the North Western part of the South East Asian country, writes P.K.Balachandran in Daily Express.
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, since Myanmar’s independence in 1947, the Buddhist majority in the country has been discriminating against and perpetrating violence against them. So much so, that the UN now suspects that the government may be wanting to drive out all the 1.1 million Rohingyas.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has warned of a looming humanitarian catastrophe in western Myanmar after the killing of nearly 400 people – mostly Rohingya Muslims – in the worst outbreak of violence in years.
“The secretary-general is deeply concerned by the reports of excesses during the security operations conducted by Myanmar’s security forces in Rakhine State and urges restraint and calm to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe,” said a statement issued by his office last Friday.
The Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC) Secretary General, Yousef A Al-Othaimeen, wrote separate letters to UN Secretary General António Guterres and State Counsellor of Myanmar Aung San Suu Kyi on the issue.
Al-Otheimeen referred to the ‘indiscriminate use of force against the civilian populations in Rakhine (the area in which the Rohingyas live), which put a huge number of civilian populations in a “miserable situation”.
He reiterated OIC’s call on the UN to continue exerting pressure on Myanmar to end the violence and to restore basic rights of the Rohingyas.
He also expressed the hope that “the United Nations Security Council could urgently and effectively address the issue.”
The secretary general further noted that the current crisis has the potential of destabilizing the entire region unless the core issues of inequality, justice and citizenship are resolved.
Indonesia Sends Foreign Minister
Indonesian President Joko Widodo has sent his foreign minister Retno Marsudi to Myanmar to urge its government to halt violence against Rohingya Muslims.
On Sunday, a petrol bomb was thrown at the Myanmar embassy in Jakarta. A group of activists had held a protest at the embassy on Saturday, calling fothe Nobel Prize Committee to withdraw the Nobel Peace Prize from Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi, state news agency Antara said.
President Widodo added that concrete actions are needed and the Indonesian government is committed to helping to solve the humanitarian crisis and that Marsudi will also travel to Bangladesh to prepare additional aid for refugees there.
The Maldivian government has said that it is “deeply concerned by the recent cycle of violence that resulted the death of dozens of Rohingya Muslims and displacing several thousands.”
“The Government of Maldives requests the United Nations Secretary General and the United Nations Human Rights Council to look into the grave violations of human rights against the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar.” The Foreign Ministry press statement said.
The Rohingya Muslim humanitarian tragedy, which has displaced more than 300,000 people, has metamorphosed into an armed conflict between the Myanmarese army and Rohingya insurgents.
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.
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 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.
Spill Over Into Neighborhood
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.
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 dealers.
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.”
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 “illegal” entrants.
Annan Commission’s Findings
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.
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.
“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 10,000 people,” the report said.
(The featured image at the top shows Rohingya women in tears)