Despite important progress at the 24-29 May 2017 round of peace talks, the path toward a negotiated end to Myanmar’s conflicts remains fraught with difficulties. All sides must redouble their engagement to broaden armed groups’ participation in the talks, and improve the implementation of the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement.
In northern Rakhine state, Buddhist mob 5 July attacked group of seven Muslims from IDP camp near state capital Sittwe, killing one and injuring six, despite them being escorted by policeman. Security forces in area around Maungdaw remain on high alert following late June attack on Buddhist civilians. Sporadic killings of villagers in northern Rakhine continued, blamed on Rohingya insurgents. Govt maintained refusal to admit fact-finding mission established by UN Human Rights Council (HRC) to look into allegations of crimes against humanity committed by military in northern Rakhine state, despite international pressure and strong criticism from human rights groups; HRC 27 July announced new chair of mission, Indonesia’s Marzuki Darusman, after Indira Jaising resigned amid claims of bias. Visiting mid-month, UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights Yanghee Lee urged govt to allow mission, also complained of restrictions on her access and criticised state surveillance of activists and journalists. UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi visited Myanmar 1-6 July, travelling to Rakhine state and meeting Aung San Suu Kyi and several ministers in Naypyitaw; called for greater efforts to address statelessness and protracted displacement. Myanmar’s National Security Adviser visited Bangladesh 2-4 July, meeting PM in visit aimed at easing tensions fuelled by exodus of some 75,000 Rohingya to Bangladesh since Oct 2016. Amid uncertainty in ethnic peace process, two groups – Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO) and Wa National Organisation – quit United Nationalities Federal Council armed group umbrella organisation late June. Further clashes broke out 8-9 July in Kachin state’s Tanai township between govt forces and KIO, with several civilians reported killed or injured by govt artillery fire. Clashes between Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and govt forces in northern Shan continued, and broke out between TNLA and Shan State Army-South; several hundred civilians reportedly fled fighting during month.
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.
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.
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.
Originally published in Nikkei Asian Review
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