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.
In 2011, fighting between Myanmar’s military and Kachin rebels displaced more than 100,000 people. Now they might be able to go home. The military and insurgents should both cease fire while the government arranges for the internally displaced persons’ safe, voluntary return or resettlement.
Regular, serious clashes between Arakan Army (AA) and Myanmar military continued, particularly in Mrauk-U, Buthidaung and Kyauktaw townships, Rakhine state. AA ambush in Buthidaung 5 April reportedly resulted in deaths of Myanmar army captain and some 20 soldiers he was leading; AA 9 April overran police compound and nearby artillery base in Mrauk-U, reportedly killing at least a dozen police and abducting family members. Military reportedly suffered heavy losses while retaking bases and called in airstrikes by fighter jets; civilian casualties reported. Rohingya villagers also caught in crossfire; at least seven and possibly many more killed when they came under helicopter fire in southern Buthidaung 3 April, believed to be case of mistaken identity. Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army militant group also ambushed police vehicle 22 April; no deaths reported. Rakhine State govt 1 April imposed overnight curfew in urban and rural areas across five townships (Ponnagyun, Rathedaung, Kyauktaw, Mrauk-U, and Minbya). Ahead of anticipated arrival of monsoon, small number of Rohingya continued efforts to cross Bay of Bengal to Malaysia before sea conditions deteriorate. UN Sec-Gen António Guterres 2 April appointed U.S. citizen Nicholas Koumjian to head UN-established Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar (IIMM), which is expected to start work by end of 2019 to collect evidence and prepare prosecutorial files “on the most serious international crimes committed in Myanmar since 2011”. President Win Myint issued amnesties for more than 17,000 prisoners to mark Myanmar new year; only four of estimated 364 political prisoners included. Supreme Court 23 April upheld sentence of two Reuters journalists, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, jailed for breaking Official Secrets Act in case that has attracted widespread international condemnation and concern over free speech.
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.
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.
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 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.