Violence against Rohingya Muslims in the western Rakhine state has reached a new high, with Myanmar military forces conducting shootings, raping women, looting and burning houses and shops, and burning the Koran in public on multiple occasions. Myanmar authorities are facing immense pressure to lift the military lockdown on the state, which has restricted thousands of Muslims and prevented aid workers from accessing the region to provide support.
Marta Kaszubska, the coordinator of the INGO Forum in Myanmar, affirmed that “the longer this situation continues, the more vulnerable people will get, as food supplies dwindle and life-threatening health problems are left untreated.” An increase in military activity in Rakhine has been in response to alleged attacks on several guard posts by an insurgent group of Rohingya on October 9. Nine police officers and five soldiers were killed as a result of the series of attacks, with at least eight attackers also reported dead. Following this, Amnesty International has confirmed receiving numerous reports of “extra-judicial executions, arbitrary arrests and detentions, destructions of homes and crimes involving sexual abuse.” Aid workers have also reported that over 10,00 Rohingya people have been displaced, with thousands more running low on food and other basic supplies.
The United States and United Nations have voiced their concerns and demanded an immediate investigation into the increased violence. In response to these complaints, a spokesman for the Rakhine government asserted that security forces “haven’t done anything lawless” or committed any human rights violations. Myanmar’s de-facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, has called for official investigations into the violence, but publicly cautioned against making accusations about the military without evidence. In response to criticism from global leaders for failing to speak out on behalf of the Rohingya, Ms. Suu Kyi has stated that “the situation in Rakhine is a legacy of many, many decades of problems [which] we’re not going to be able to resolve overnight.”
Analysts believe that the military’s violent response demonstrates their firm grip on power, despite the NLD’s victory in the elections in November of last year. This belief has been, seemingly, confirmed, given the symbiotic relationship between Ms. Suu Kyi and the Myanmar military: so long as she does not challenge their authority on issues of security, the generals will not actively undermine her position. Such passivity, however, is unlikely to last as global leaders become increasingly involved in and vocal about the Rahkine violence. The current violence against Rohingya is the biggest crisis that Ms. Suu Kyi’s government is facing, which is likely to eventuate in significant contention between the government and the military. Notwithstanding the political turmoil that may eventuate, it is imperative that Myanmar’s democratic government works to overcome the deeply ingrained problems in Rakhine and bring peace to the people who are continuing to suffer as a result.
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