The first four months of Myanmar’s democratic government have set a positive tone. But de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi needs to find ways to bring peace with ethnic insurgents closer, rebalance relations with China, and overcome deeply ingrained problems in Rakhine State.
Originally published in Foreign Policy
UN-OHCHR 3 Feb released report on human rights abuses by security forces in N Rakhine state following Oct attacks on police posts by al-Yaqin armed group. Report, which found “very likely commission of crimes against humanity” including mass killings and gang rapes, significantly increased momentum behind calls for international commission of inquiry, to be discussed at UN Human Rights Council session in March. 73,000 Rohingya now reported to have fled to Bangladesh since 9 Oct, 24,000 internally displaced. Having previously denied similar allegations, govt 8 Feb said it would investigate allegations, however, gave task to commission headed by VP-1 Myint Swe, whose credibility was undermined when it issued preliminary report in Jan finding no evidence of abuses. Military and police set up separate, internal investigations 9 and 11 Feb; military chief of general staff Gen Mya Tun Oo in 28 Feb press conference said military had so far not been able to substantiate OHCHR accusations of rape and other atrocities, denied general allegations of Rohingya persecution. New National Security Adviser 15 Feb told diplomats military “clearance operations” had now ended; humanitarian and media access remain restricted. Curfew restrictions in Maungdaw district since 2012 anti-Muslim violence, which had been tightened following Oct attacks, were relaxed 10 Feb. Speaking at Annual Union Day celebrations marking 70th anniversary of signing of Panglong Agreement on inclusion of ethnic borderlands in independent Burma 12 Feb, Aung San Suu Kyi focused on new “Panglong-21” peace process, urged ethnic armed groups to have “courage” and “self-confidence” to sign Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA). Govt postponed next Panglong-21 peace conference from 28 Feb to late March, as preparatory meetings started late and with little apparent success in convincing any additional groups to sign NCA. Fighting in Kachin and N Shan states subsided since late-Jan as military has eased offensives against ethnic armed group positions. Motive and ultimate responsibility remained unclear in 29 Jan assassination of leading constitutional lawyer and ruling NLD party adviser Ko Ni.
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.
Aung San Suu Kyi’s landslide electoral victory was a historic success for Myanmar. To meet the high expectations that resulted, the country’s new leaders will need to balance carefully ties with China with those with the West, credibly lead a fragile peace process and above all handle wisely their relations with a still-powerful army.
A ceasefire between Myanmar’s government and armed groups is tantalising close. It would end 60 years of armed conflict and ease the path of democratic transition. But time is short before historic elections on 8 November, and any failure to seal an accord could trigger renewed clashes that would be hard to bring back under control.
Myanmar’s November elections will be a critical inflection point. Despite significant progress in election administration and in ending a two-generation-long civil war, the fragile peace process and incomplete political reforms constitute major challenges. All sides must ensure that zero-sum politics around the elections does not imperil the 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.
The emergence of this well-organized, apparently well-funded group is a game changer in the Myanmar government’s efforts to address the complex challenges in Rakhine state.
There are real risks that if the [Myanmar] government mishandles the situation, it will push more of the Muslim population in that area to support al-Yaqin, entrenching the armed group and a cycle of violence.
Myanmar is a new democracy, its institutions aren't that strong, it has a number of other ethnic battles up on its north-eastern border and elsewhere, and [the recent border attacks] will make life a lot more complicated for the government.
A level playing field helps mainly small and medium-sized industries in Myanmar, not the cronies who have thrived under sanctions for years and are geared up to circumvent them.
The emergence of the al-Yaqin armed group in Myanmar's Rakhine State and the heavy-handed response by the government risk imperiling the country's transition to democracy. In this excerpt from our Watch List 2017 annual early-warning report for European policy makers, Crisis Group encourages the European Union and its member states to pressure the highest level of the government and military to stop abuses in Rakhine and develop a political strategy to address the underlying causes of armed militancy.
The 29 January assassination of U Ko Ni, a respected Muslim veteran of the pro-democracy struggle, is a great loss to Myanmar and underlines the urgency for unity against all forms of hate speech and possible hate crimes.
Crisis Group’s Myanmar report on 15 December 2016 revealed the emergence of a game-changing Muslim insurgency in the country’s Rakhine state. In this Editorial, the Wall Street Journal’s Opinion Page introduced the report to readers as evidence of how Burma’s abuse of the Rohingya Muslims has created violent backlash.
Deadly attacks in October and November against security forces in Burma’s northern Arakan state are qualitatively different from anything that has occurred there in recent decades.
Originally published in Time
Originally published in Nikkei Asian Review