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.
Ethnic armed conflict, the ongoing Rohingya crisis and thriving illegal business are preventing Myanmar from solving the country’s protracted conflicts. In this excerpt from our Watch List 2019 for European policymakers, Crisis Group urges the EU to sustain aid and diversify its peacebuilding initiatives.
Deadly clashes between military and Rakhine and Rohingya armed groups continued in overlapping areas of northern Rakhine State, with both communities caught in crossfire, with fears conflict will escalate ahead of monsoon season in April/May. Rakhine State govt late-Jan granted permission to police and military to carry out household search operations in seven townships to search for members of Arakan Army; authorities have charged dozens of young men with unlawful association for having contacts with group. Intense fighting between military and Arakan Army in southern Chin State’s remote Paletwa township early Feb caused several hundred Rakhine and Chin villagers to flee across border to Bangladesh’s Chittagong Hill Tracts, prompting Dhaka to send letter to Myanmar 5 Feb expressing concern over security situation and possible new exodus. Bangladesh FM told UN Security Council 28 Feb that it cannot accommodate any more refugees from Myanmar. Attempted IED attack on military convoy in Ann township 4 Feb, some distance from Arakan Army’s normal area of operations, prompted concerns over possible expansion of attacks to other parts of Rakhine State. Govt statements on destroying Arakan Army, and reports and photos of Rakhine civilian casualties, seen as likely to further alienate many Rakhine and harden their support for group. Indications continued that Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army militant group also becoming more active, with several small attacks in Maungdaw area in Jan and Feb bearing hallmarks of group. With ethnic peace process moribund, four Ethnic Armed Organisations constituting Northern Alliance – Arakan Army, Kachin Independence Organisation, Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army, and Ta’ang National Liberation Army – said they offered military a ceasefire during meeting with govt’s National Reconciliation and Peace Centre in China 25 Feb. Parliament 19 Feb formed joint committee to amend 2008 military-drafted constitution ahead of 2020 elections, despite opposition from military MPs; committee began work 25 Feb; military has veto on any amendments.
Ethnic Rakhine insurgents have attacked four police stations in Myanmar’s Rakhine State, provoking a military counteroffensive. Escalation could imperil both prospects for Rohingya repatriation and the country’s transition toward civilian rule. All sides should step back from confrontation and pursue talks about Rakhine State’s future.
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.
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.
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