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.
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.
Armed conflict in north continued to escalate, with clashes between military and Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO) in Kachin state displacing over 7,000 civilians since early April. In northern Shan state, nineteen people killed including twelve civilians and 27 injured in clash in key border trading town Muse 12 May; fighting followed attack by Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) on police and allied militia positions. China 14 May demanded end to fighting, noting that clashes had killed two Chinese nationals and prompted 300 people to flee into China. Clashes also escalated between TNLA and Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) in state early May, displacing some 600 in Namtu township. Early and late May also saw small-scale deadly clashes between Arakan Army and Tatmadaw troops in southern Chin state. Peace process continued to inch toward next Panglong-21 peace conference, although date yet to be fixed. International scrutiny of Rohingya crisis continued: Organisation of Islamic Cooperation FMs meeting in Bangladesh 5-6 May pushed for accountability and political action; Myanmar govt 9 May criticised meeting’s outcome statement, same day lodged complaint about construction by Bangladesh border police of security posts within agreed no-construction zone near border line. Following late April visit to Bangladesh and Myanmar, UN Security Council 9 May issued press statement noting its members “were struck by the scale of the humanitarian crisis”, remain “gravely concerned”, urging govt to create conditions conducive to safe, voluntary and dignified return of Rohingya, implement Rakhine Advisory Commission recommendations, and called for accountability for perpetrators of violence. State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi 1 May said her govt “is pleased to be working in partnership with the UN” including on repatriation, “believes that this is the appropriate time” for UN refugee agency involvement in Rakhine, but no substantive follow-through yet. Amnesty International 22 May reported evidence that Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) had killed scores of Hindu civilians after launching attacks on security posts in Rakhine state Aug 2017; ARSA denied.
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.
Despite important progress at the 24-29 May 2017 round of peace talks, the path toward a negotiated end to Myanmar’s conflicts remains fraught with difficulties. All sides must redouble their engagement to broaden armed groups’ participation in the talks, and improve the implementation of the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement.
Recent attacks by an émigré-led force of trained Rohingya fighters mark a dangerous turn. To remove a main root of the violence – Rohingya despair – the government must reverse longstanding discrimination against the Muslim minority, moderate its military tactics, and reach out to Myanmar’s Muslim allies.
After almost 70 years of armed conflict, Myanmar has a rare but fading opportunity to finalise a broad-based, federal settlement. The government must adopt a more flexible approach that allays opposition concerns, and armed groups need to go beyond preliminaries and engage in meaningful discussions.
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
The international community’s failure to address Myanmar’s Rohingya crisis has resulted in massive displacement from Rakhine state. The crisis poses a clear threat to Myanmar’s democratic transition. In this excerpt from the Watch List 2017 – Third Update early warning report for European policy makers, Crisis Group urges the European Union and its member states to support strong Security Council action and push for multilateral and bilateral engagement with Myanmar’s civilian and military leaders.