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
Delayed Panglong-21 Peace Conference held 24-29 May, with broader participation than expected after China brokered last-minute deal to fly seven armed groups from NE to Naypyitaw; these groups attended opening segment, also met with Aung San Suu Kyi and other officials, but did not participate in conference discussions. Conference agreed 37 “principles” including some governing future federal arrangement, although with deep divisions over some points. Sporadic clashes ongoing between govt forces and Ta’ang National Liberation Army troops in N Shan state’s Namkhan township since late-April, as well as with Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army in Kokang region. Tensions between govt forces and Kachin Independence Organisation troops also reportedly high in jade mining area Hpakant in Kachin state 19 May. Govt 13 May announced discovery of bodies of five men – two “foreigners” and three local Muslim residents, including two Islamic leaders – buried in Buthidaung township in N Rakhine state; bomb-making materials also found 7 May. Authorities claim they were killed, and several injured, in 4 May explosion during IED training session being taught by the foreigners, reportedly Pakistani. UN 30 May appointed three experts to fact-finding mission into human rights in Myanmar, including Rohingya crackdown, mandated by Human Rights Council in March; govt reiterated its rejection of move. Yangon court 28 April began hearings in case against seven nationalists including three monks for holding unauthorised anti-Rohingya demonstration outside U.S. embassy in 2016; after hearing, some 50 nationalists forced closure of four nearby madrassas; police negotiated padlocking of the schools in effort to calm protesters. Following 9 May court hearing on related case, group of some 50 nationalists and monks went to nearby township with large Muslim population demanding authorities search house accused of harbouring illegal Rohingya; none were found and police fired warning shots to restore control. Arrest warrants issued for seven nationalist demonstrators, including two monks, for inciting violence. Kofi Annan-led advisory commission for Rakhine state held further round of consultations 8-16 May, in Yangon, Sittwe and Naypyitaw.
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.
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.
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