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.
Originally published in Foreign Policy
Military operations continued in north Maungdaw, N Rakhine state, where al-Yaqin armed group staged attacks Oct and Nov. Sweep in Buthidaung township 4 Jan resulted in seizure of home-made guns and arrest of four suspects who authorities claim were planning attack on security targets. Ongoing operations, widespread fear and dire humanitarian situation caused continued displacement, with UN reporting 69,000 had fled to Bangladesh since Oct, at least 23,000 more displaced internally. Humanitarian access marginally improved but remains heavily restricted. Several Rohingya, most with links to authorities, found murdered in Maungdaw township over month; al-Yaqin suspected of responsibility. Investigation Commission established by govt to look into Oct/Nov attacks and security response issued preliminary report 3 Jan stating unable to confirm widespread reports that security forces were responsible for rape, burning of villages and illegal arrests and torture; also stated no cases of malnutrition were found, contradicting UN empirical data. Commission conducted second round of investigations from 6 Jan, but day before its 31 Jan deadline to send final report to president requested “indefinite extension” to look at further allegations. Video purporting to show beating and abuse of Rohingya villagers by security forces posted to social media 31 Dec; govt confirmed video’s authenticity, stated it was taking action to punish police responsible; several officers arrested. Visiting Bangladesh 11-12 Jan, deputy FM Kyaw Tin met with PM and FM, agreed to deepen bilateral relations, begin discussions on repatriation of those who had recently fled from Myanmar to Bangladesh. Prominent Muslim lawyer and legal adviser to Aung San Suu Kyi shot dead at Yangon airport 29 Jan; suspect arrested at scene. Ahead of next “Panglong-21” Peace Conference slated for late Feb, serious clashes continued between “Northern Alliance” of four armed group and govt forces in N Shan state. Govt forces also continued offensives against Kachin Independence Organisation positions in Kachin state, making gains late Dec and early Jan including group’s 3rd Battalion headquarters and nearby hill posts 12 Jan. Fighting close to IDP camps prompted some 4,000 IDPs to attempt to seek shelter in China on 11 Jan; reportedly turned back by Chinese authorities. Ta’ang National Liberation Army attacked govt troops in Namhsan town 10 Jan. Govt peace advisers met with National Ceasefire Agreement non-signatory armed groups in Chiang Mai 12-13 Jan, no substantive progress reported.
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 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.
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 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
Large coordinated attacks hit three Myanmar border police posts in the troubled Rakhine State on 9 October. In this Q&A, Crisis Group Myanmar Adviser Richard Horsey warns that it could tip simmering tensions between the beleaguered Rohingya Muslim minority and the government into wider, open conflict.