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NORWAY-ASIA BUSINESS REVIEW

ISSUE 3 2017

PHOTO: SHUTTERSTOCK

Violence in Myanmar’s western Rakhine region has caused more than 500,000 Muslim villagers to flee.

Rakhine Violence Threatens the Stability LARRY JAGAN

ere we look at the background to the tensions and examine H the government’s plans to reduce the underlying causes of the conflict. The recommendations of the Kofi Annan Advisory

Commission on Rakhine are the basis of the government’s recently announced plan of action.

Insurgent attacks and the military’s response in Myanmar’s troubled western province of Arakan is threatening to destabilise the country and throw the government’s commitment to strengthening democracy and economic development off track. The United Nations has repeatedly demanded that the Myanmar government hold the military accountable for alleged widespread human rights abuses in Rakhine and to take concrete steps to address the underlying causes of the continued communal violence. Since late August, according to the UN, more than half-a-million Muslim villagers have fled across the border into neighbouring Bangladesh to escape the violence. The army’s

commander-in-chief, Senior General U Min Aung Hlaing though argues these figures are severely inflated, and that many are not refugees but Bangladeshis returning home. He also denies that they are escaping from the Tatmadaw or army’s operations, and insists Muslim agitators have induced them to bolt. Communal tensions between the majority local Buddhist Arakanese and the Muslims in the area have been simmering for decades. Although most of these Muslim villagers call themselves Rohingya, the government refuses to recognise them as such, and refers to them as Bengalis instead, insisting they are interlopers from across the border, although many have lived in

Myanmar for several generations. Communal tensions in Arakan have periodically erupted into violence, over the past few decades. The current situation dates from mid2012, when the first recent incident of killings occurred. Thousands of Muslim houses were burnt to the ground in the aftermath, mainly by local Buddhist villagers, as the military and police stood by and watched, according to human rights activists. The military eventually brought the situation under control, which was during the previous regime of President U Thein Sein. But as a result of the devastation most of the Muslim population was herded into camps, where they have relied on the UN for food and shelter. This of course only increased the Rohingya’s grievances. And left a smouldering volcano of resentment and injustice, ready to erupt. Since the first insurgent attacks on several of Myanmar’s police border guard posts last October, left more than nine guards dead, tension and violence has festered. The insurgents, calling themselves the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), claimed responsibility for the October raids on the police posts. According to the group’s unverified Twitter account, they are fighting to advance the rights of the Rohingya,

Norway-Asia Business Review 2017-03  
Norway-Asia Business Review 2017-03