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.
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.
Insecurity continued in northern Shan state and Rakhine state in west, while govt held talks with ethnic armed groups based along Thai border. In Shan state, following end of military’s unilateral ceasefire in Sept, clashes continued between Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and military including TNLA 9 Oct ambush of convoy army trucks passing through Hseni town, killing three soldiers, injuring three others and seven civilians. In Rakhine State military and Arakan Army (AA) clashed regularly, with military deploying air and naval assets. Navy 1 Oct shelled village on Kaladan River in Kyauktaw township claiming AA fighters were taking refuge there; hit monastic school, injuring five. AA 26 Oct attacked ferry in northern Rakhine, abducting some 50 police, military and govt officials; several reported killed in military operation to release them; military 28 Oct reported fourteen rescued. Mandalay court 8 Oct charged six alleged AA members and supporters with terrorism offences following Sept police raid that uncovered explosives, detonators and communications equipment. Govt continued informal talks with Restoration Council of Shan State and Karen National Union, two largest ethnic armed groups along Thai border, with hopes it could lead to them resuming full participation in formal negotiations. Govt also held separate discussions with Kachin Independence Organisation, AA, TNLA and Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army, aiming to establish bilateral ceasefires. Court in Ngapudaw township, Ayeyarwady Region (south of Rakhine state), 4 Oct sentenced 21 Rohingya to two years imprisonment for attempting to travel from Rakhine to Yangon without permission, following single hearing and without legal representation for defendants; rights groups condemned trial as evidence of continued discrimination faced by Rohingya and lack of conditions for safe repatriation of refugees from Bangladesh. UN Special Rapporteur on situation of human rights in Myanmar Yanghee Lee 22 Oct reported it remains “unsafe for [Rohingya refugees] to return to Myanmar”, and called on UN Security Council to refer Myanmar to International Criminal Court. Bangladeshi govt maintained hardline stance against Rohingya refugees (see Bangladesh).
Myanmar’s 2020 polls are a chance to consolidate electoral democracy in the country. Yet many ethnic minorities doubt that voting gives them a real say. To preempt possible violence, the government and outside partners should work to enhance the ballot’s inclusiveness and transparency.
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.
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.
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.
Ethnic armed conflict, the ongoing Rohingya crisis and thriving illegal business are preventing Myanmar from solving the country’s protracted conflicts. In this excerpt from our Watch List 2019 for European policymakers, Crisis Group urges the EU to sustain aid and diversify its peacebuilding initiatives.
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.