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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.

CrisisWatch Myanmar

Deteriorated Situation

Following late Aug attacks by Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA, also known as Harakah al-Yaqin), violent and disproportionate military response targeting Rohingya villagers in Muslim-majority northern Rakhine state continued, including systematic burnings of villages by security forces and Rakhine Buddhist vigilantes, abuses and killings. UN reported over 500,000 Rohingya – over two thirds of area’s Rohingya population – had fled to Bangladesh by late Sept, creating one of fastest-growing refugee crises since Second World War; tens of thousands more internally displaced, Rohingya and members of other groups. Govt continued to deny UN and international NGO humanitarian access to northern Rakhine, refused visas to UN Fact Finding Mission. UN human rights chief 11 Sept condemned “textbook example of ethnic cleansing”. Addressing open UN Security Council session 28 Sept, UN Secretary-General Guterres called for end to military operation and warned of impact of crisis on regional stability; Myanmar national security advisor denied accusations of ethnic cleansing and genocide. Govt rejected ARSA’s 10 Sept call for “humanitarian pause” ceasefire; ARSA 14 Sept issued statement denying links with al-Qaeda, Islamic State (ISIS), Lashkar-e-Taiba (Pakistan) “or any transnational terrorist group”, warned against their involvement in Arakan conflict. Aung San Suu Kyi 19 Sept gave speech to foreign diplomats condemning human rights violations and expressing concern for those caught up in conflict; international observers criticised her apparent denial of ethnic cleansing and claims that Muslims in Rakhine state have access to health and education services without discrimination; that 50% of Muslim villages remained untouched; and that military operations had ended 5 Sept. Commander in chief 21 Sept said military had handled situation as best it could, called for displaced “ethnic” (ie non-Muslim) communities to return to villages as soon as possible. Govt found two mass graves in northern Rakhine 24 and 25 Sept containing 45 bodies, said they are Hindu villagers killed by ARSA. Nationalist monk Wirathu gave speech on Rakhine crisis in Kayin state capital 10 Sept attended by nearly 40,000 people, in violation of preaching ban.

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Reports & Briefings

In The News

5 Sep 2017
The [Myanmar] military and government should be careful not to assume all Rohingya are sympathizers or supporters [of jihadis]. Deutsche Welle

Anagha Neelakantan

Program Director, Asia
29 Aug 2017
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]. RFI

Anagha Neelakantan

Program Director, Asia
31 Mar 2017
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 Guardian

Richard Horsey

Consultant, Myanmar
3 Feb 2017
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. CNN

Richard Horsey

Consultant, Myanmar
4 Jan 2017
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. The Los Angeles Times

— Crisis Group

16 Dec 2016
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. Deutsche Presse Agentur
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Latest Updates

Statement / Asia

Myanmar Tips into New Crisis after Rakhine State Attacks

The Rohingya insurgent attacks that killed twelve Myanmar soldiers and officials and perhaps 77 of their own number is a serious escalation of a ten-month-old crisis. They make implementation of this week’s recommendations to address Rohingya grievances from Kofi Annan’s Advisory Commission both harder and more urgent.

Also available in Burmese, 简体中文
Commentary / Asia

Myanmar: Diverting Rakhine State’s Alarming Trajectory

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.

Statement / Asia

Myanmar Assassination Shows Urgent Need for Unity Against Hate Crimes

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.

Impact Note / Asia

WSJ: Asia’s New Insurgency

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.

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Richard Horsey

Consultant, Myanmar