Crisis Group is monitoring the volatility in this multi-ethnic, multi-religious country during its transition away from military rule. In Rakhine state, longstanding communal tensions and government discrimination against the Rohingya Muslim minority have morphed into a major crisis. In August 2017, following militant attacks, the military drove more than 750,000 Rohingya into neighbouring Bangladesh. This human catastrophe is also a potential driver of transnational jihadist group mobilisation or recruitment. Meanwhile, armed conflict has escalated in both Rakhine and Shan states, and the peace process with some 21 ethnic armed groups has lost momentum as it collides with political and electoral realities. Through field research and advocacy, Crisis Group works to mitigate the impact of armed conflict, strengthen the peace process and promote improved communal relations.
The polls approaching in Myanmar are an opportunity for the government and ethnic armed groups to re-examine their positions in the country’s peace process. All parties should use the election-related hiatus to ask why talks have not succeeded and how to make them more productive.
Amid clashes between Arakan Army (AA) and military in Rakhine state, govt and armed groups agreed to hold fifth Union Peace Conference in Aug while election commission scheduled general elections for Nov. In Rakhine state, two police officers 8 July went missing in state capital Sittwe. Army 11 July arrested six men suspected of links to AA in Ramree township, army claimed one committed suicide in custody, but body showed signs of torture. Clashes between military and AA 11-14 July killed at least four civilians and displaced more than 3,000 in Ponnagyun, Rathedaung and Maungdaw townships. NGO Amnesty International 8 July said military’s killing of civilians in indiscriminate airstrikes on villages in Rakhine and Chin states “amount to war crimes” and urged UN Security Council to refer situation to International Criminal Court. In Shan state, after military late June allegedly shot and killed civilian and injured two others in Kyaukme township amid clashes with armed group Restoration Council of Shan State, more than 10,000 10 July protested in Kyaukme demanding justice for victims; military indicated same day that it would seek charges against organisers for illegal protest. In Kayin state, army 16 July killed civilian; in response, over 1,500 22 July and around 5,000 28 July demonstrated in Papun district calling for military’s withdrawal. Negotiators of govt and other signatories of Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement 7 July agreed to hold fourth “Panglong-21” Union Peace Conference 12-14 August; Brotherhood Alliance – coalition of non-signatory armed groups AA, Ta’ang National Liberation Army and Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army – 21 July said it was “fully willing” to attend conference if invited and that it wanted to resume “stalled negotiations” with govt. Election Commission 1 July announced general elections scheduled for 8 Nov. UK 6 July imposed sanctions on military chief and his deputy for their involvement in “systematic and brutal violence against the Rohingya people and other ethnic minorities.”
Fighting in Myanmar’s Rakhine State is taking a rising toll. It will hinder any effort to contain COVID-19 or resolve the Rohingya crisis. Rather than trying to defeat the Arakan Army, Naypyitaw should negotiate with ethnic Rakhine, endeavouring to convince them of electoral democracy’s benefits.
Conflicts have paused in much of Myanmar, opening a window for the government, military and ethnic armed groups to pursue a holistic response to the coronavirus. The parties should also work together in Rakhine State, where fighting persists, to limit the disease’s spread.
Isolated from the international community, Myanmar is deepening its dependence on China. But closer ties, Beijing-backed megaprojects and private Chinese investment carry both risks and opportunities. Both states should proceed carefully to ensure local communities benefit and avoid inflaming deadly armed conflicts.
Bangladesh is hosting nearly a million Rohingya refugees who have little hope of going home any time soon. The government should move to improve camp living conditions, in particular by lifting the education ban and fighting crime. Donors should support such steps.
A trio of ethnic armed groups have escalated their fight with the military in Myanmar’s Shan State. This alliance has long been outside the country’s peace process. With China’s help, the government should pursue bilateral ceasefires – and longer-term rapprochement – with the three organisations.
[The drug trade] is a problem of the armed conflict in Myanmar [and] it is also a problem of corruption.
The overall impression is that Myanmar is being cautious about Chinese investment, especially ahead of elections planned later in the year.
[Aung San Suu Kyi] likely feels that she must do all she can to defend the national interest against what most people in Myanmar see as biased and politically-motivated charges.
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].
On 10 December, the International Court of Justice convened to hear an opening request in a genocide case filed against Myanmar for its atrocities against Rohingya Muslims. In this Q&A, Crisis Group expert Richard Horsey looks at the legal and diplomatic stakes of these proceedings.