Crisis Group is monitoring the volatility in this multi-ethnic, multi-religious country during its transition away from military rule. In Rakhine state, longstanding communal tensions and government discrimination against the Rohingya Muslim minority have morphed into a major crisis. In August 2017, following militant attacks, the military drove more than 750,000 Rohingya into neighbouring Bangladesh. This human catastrophe is also a potential driver of transnational jihadist group mobilisation or recruitment. Meanwhile, armed conflict has escalated in both Rakhine and Shan states, and the peace process with some 21 ethnic armed groups has lost momentum as it collides with political and electoral realities. Through field research and advocacy, Crisis Group works to mitigate the impact of armed conflict, strengthen the peace process and promote improved communal relations.
The polls approaching in Myanmar are an opportunity for the government and ethnic armed groups to re-examine their positions in the country’s peace process. All parties should use the election-related hiatus to ask why talks have not succeeded and how to make them more productive.
Deadly fighting between military and Arakan Army (AA) persisted in Rakhine State. Govt negotiators 9 June proposed to Brotherhood Alliance – coalition of armed groups AA, Kachin Independence Organisation, Ta’ang National Liberation Army and Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army – to resume peace talks via videoconference but coalition rejected offer. Violence between AA and military continued across Rakhine State. AA 10 June reportedly launched rocket-propelled grenades at two navy vessels, which returned fire killing civilian in nearby village in Sittwe township; AA ambush on military column same day prompted several thousands to flee in Minbya township; suspected AA fighters 11 June stabbed soldier and abducted another in Sittwe, military reportedly killed civilian in retaliation. AA 22 June reportedly launched attack on police convoy killing three officers and one civilian in Rathedaung township; landmines targeting military column 2 June killed civilian and unknown number of soldiers in Ponnagyun township. Govt issued order 23 June to villagers in part of Rathedaung township to leave their villages due to imminent military “clearance operation”; thousands fled and intense fighting ongoing since 24 June, prompting UN and Western embassies to raise alarm and call for urgent civilian protection measures. Clash between military and Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) 4 June left two ARSA fighters dead in Maungdaw township, Rakhine State; ARSA claimed “sizable” number of military casualties. Govt 12 June said internet blackout in Rakhine and Chin states would remain in place until at least August; on 21 June, one-year anniversary of internet ban, international community and more than 100 civil society organisations called on govt to lift ban. Rise in detected COVID-19 cases in Rakhine State due to informal returns from Rohingya refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh, prompted govt to announce criminal penalties for illegal cross-border travel and fuelled anti-Rohingya hate speech.
Fighting in Myanmar’s Rakhine State is taking a rising toll. It will hinder any effort to contain COVID-19 or resolve the Rohingya crisis. Rather than trying to defeat the Arakan Army, Naypyitaw should negotiate with ethnic Rakhine, endeavouring to convince them of electoral democracy’s benefits.
Conflicts have paused in much of Myanmar, opening a window for the government, military and ethnic armed groups to pursue a holistic response to the coronavirus. The parties should also work together in Rakhine State, where fighting persists, to limit the disease’s spread.
Isolated from the international community, Myanmar is deepening its dependence on China. But closer ties, Beijing-backed megaprojects and private Chinese investment carry both risks and opportunities. Both states should proceed carefully to ensure local communities benefit and avoid inflaming deadly armed conflicts.
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.
A trio of ethnic armed groups have escalated their fight with the military in Myanmar’s Shan State. This alliance has long been outside the country’s peace process. With China’s help, the government should pursue bilateral ceasefires – and longer-term rapprochement – with the three organisations.
[The drug trade] is a problem of the armed conflict in Myanmar [and] it is also a problem of corruption.
The overall impression is that Myanmar is being cautious about Chinese investment, especially ahead of elections planned later in the year.
[Aung San Suu Kyi] likely feels that she must do all she can to defend the national interest against what most people in Myanmar see as biased and politically-motivated charges.
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].
On 10 December, the International Court of Justice convened to hear an opening request in a genocide case filed against Myanmar for its atrocities against Rohingya Muslims. In this Q&A, Crisis Group expert Richard Horsey looks at the legal and diplomatic stakes of these proceedings.