In Rakhine state, longstanding communal tensions and extreme discrimination by the government against the Rohingya Muslim minority has morphed into a major crisis. Following renewed attacks by a militant group on security targets in northern Rakhine in August 2017, a brutal response by the military has driven more than 430,000 Rohingya into neighbouring Bangladesh. In addition to the human catastrophe, this could undermine the political transition and make Myanmar a target for transnational jihadist groups. The peace process with some 21 ethnic armed groups has lost momentum, and a negotiated settlement remains elusive. Resurgent Buddhist nationalism threatens to divide communities and faiths in this multi-ethnic, multi-religious country. Through field research and advocacy aimed at the Myanmar government as well as influential regional and international actors, Crisis Group works to help mitigate the crisis in Rakhine state, strengthen the peace process and promote improved intercommunal relations.
Civil strife has turned Myanmar’s Shan State into a crystal methamphetamine hub. The richer the traffickers get, the harder the underlying conflicts will be to resolve. Instead of targeting minor offenders, the military should root out corruption, including among top brass, and disarm complicit paramilitaries.
Tensions rose in northern Rakhine state, while ethnic conflict continued despite military’s unilateral ceasefire in Shan and Kachin states. In Rakhine state, discovery of bullet-ridden body of a policeman missing since being ambushed in Maungdaw township, and killing of two Buddhist men, prompted launch of military “clearance operations”; perpetrators unknown. Fears continued among Rohingya refugees in camps Bangladesh following Dhaka’s abortive attempt to repatriate almost 500 refugee families back to Rakhine state, compounded by fears over possible change in Bangladesh policy following its elections 30 Dec; Rohingya continued attempts to make dangerous boat trip across Bay of Bengal from camps in Bangladesh and from Rakhine state. International pressure on govt continued: U.S. House of Representatives 13 Dec passed resolution declaring military campaign against Rohingya a genocide, adding to growing momentum in EU and U.S. for new round of sanctions. EU 10 Dec decided to move ahead with more targeted sanctions on seven military and border guard officers; bloc scheduled to decide in Jan whether to formally begin process for revoking Myanmar’s trade preferences, amid ongoing concern over impact on hundreds of thousands of workers in garment industry. U.S. decided late-Nov to move ahead with sanctions against Myanmar related to trafficking in persons, requiring U.S. representatives to vote against any new support to govt by international financial institutions and placing significant restrictions on U.S. aid. Conflict between ethnic armed groups in Shan state continued amid fears it will further deteriorate in coming months, including between competing Shan factions. In surprise move, military 21 Dec announced four-month unilateral ceasefire against ethnic armed groups in Shan and Kachin states. Rakhine state not included in ceasefire, and month saw continuation of series of clashes there and in adjacent southern Chin state between Myanmar military and Arakan Army; military 6 Dec acknowledged several officers had been killed.
Bangladesh and Myanmar have struck a deal for the involuntary repatriation of over 2,000 Rohingya refugees. But the agreement is rushed and threatens stability on both sides of the border. Myanmar and Bangladesh should halt the plan and instead work to create conditions conducive to a safe and dignified return.
Aung San Suu Kyi’s government appears stuck amid international condemnation of the Rohingya's mass displacement and domestic unease about the economy. To nudge Myanmar’s post-junta transition forward, the UN should combine engagement with pressure for accountability for crimes against humanity and eventual refugee return.
More than 700,000 Rohingya refugees from brutal military operations in Myanmar are stuck in Bangladesh, with returns to Myanmar unlikely soon and Bangladeshi goodwill being tested. In Myanmar, international partners must be allowed access to northern Rakhine State. In Bangladesh, donors must help both refugees and their local hosts.
The mass flight of Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar’s Rakhine State has created a humanitarian catastrophe and serious security risks, including potential cross-border militant attacks. The international community should press the Myanmar government to urgently implement the Annan commission’s proposals, including as regards discrimination, segregation and citizenship.
Extreme Buddhist nationalist positions including hate speech and violence are on the rise in Myanmar. Rather than ineffective bans on broad-based groups like the Association for the Protection of Race and Religion (MaBaTha), the government should address underlying causes and reframe the debate on Buddhism’s place in society and politics.
The Pope was aware that inserting himself too strongly into a situation with a lot of religious undertones could inflame tensions further in Myanmar.
[Buddhist] monks feel the [Myanmar] government is weak on the protection of Buddhism and keeping the morals of the country intact.
The [Myanmar] military and government should be careful not to assume all Rohingya are sympathizers or supporters [of jihadis].
It should be in the government’s power to create the conditions in which to implement some of these recommendations [of the Kofi Annan-led Advisory Commission on Rakhine State in Myanmar].
Most [political] transitions end badly like the Arab spring. [They] are always bumpy and I think Myanmar is going through a particularly bumpy moment in its transition.
The threat is not because of [Harakah al-Yaqin's] military strength, it's because of what they represent, the potential of [Myanmar] facing a very well organized, violent jihadist movement.
Originally published in Asia Times
More than one million Muslim Rohingya forced to flee from Myanmar now live in camps in south-eastern Bangladesh. In this excerpt from our Watch List 2018, Crisis Group urges the EU and its member states to increase funding for refugee assistance and use diplomatic leverage to find a compromise on the issue of refugee repatriation.
Most went back home from Bangladesh in two earlier exoduses, but this time is different.
Originally published in Nikkei Asian Review
Originally published in Lowy Institute