On Friday, August 25th, violence erupted as result of a series of coordinated attacks by Rohingya, a Muslim minority, insurgents. The group attacked 30 police stations on Friday and violence continued through Sunday. The death toll has risen to 98, 80 of which are insurgents. Twelve are members of security forces, and the rest are presumed to be civilians. The clashes are the worst to hit Myanmar at the hands of Rohingya insurgents since October and have led to the evacuation of thousands from the area of Rakhine.
Thousands of refugees have fled the area and attempted to enter Bangladesh to escape the violence. However, the Bangladeshi border control are turning people away. Bangladeshi police report sending 70 people who had entered the country in the Ghumdhum border area back into Myanmar. According to one officer, “they were pleading with us not to send them back to Myanmar.” Meanwhile, thousands of other refugees have snuck over the border and made their way to refugee camps.
The Rohingya are a Muslim minority group within Myanmar, a majority Buddhist area, with a population of over a million. The group claims to be indigenous to the Rakhine State, a position supported by a number of scholars. Other historians claim the group is a collection of immigrants who settled in the area. The Myanmar government maintains the official stance that the group are illegal immigrants who migrated into the Rakhine State following the Burmese independence in 1948 or after Bangladesh liberation in 1971.
As such, the government maintains a strict set of restrictions on the group. The Rakhine state is the poorest region of Myanmar, largely due to these restrictions. Amnesty International claims that the group is one of the most persecuted in the world. In the past year, the group has faced a brutal military crackdown. The Myanmar army has been accused of ethnic cleansing, genocide, rape, and torture, among other atrocities. The United Nations has even gone so far as to accuse the military of committing atrocities during this crackdown, allegations which the military rejects.
Aung San Suu Kyi, the State Counsellor of Myanmar, has stated that the military efforts in the region are part of the counter-terrorism operation to catch the militants who cause attacks such as the most recent. Suu Kyi is a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize due to her efforts to achieve democratization of Myanmar which resulted in a long period of house arrest within the nation under a military junta during the ’90s. Now in power, however, it seems that her efforts for democracy, freedom, and equality are forgotten with the treatment of the Rohingya.
Journalists have been banned from the Rahkine State, so there is little to no reports from the Rohingya, meaning it is difficult to know the truth. BBC reported that in January of 2017, the Rahkine State government gave the news network permission for interviews in the region. However, upon arrival, they were greeted with a large number of military and police personnel. They then received information that their permission had been withdrawn. Apparently, “word had reached Ms Suu Kyi’s government in the capital Naypyidaw and the order had been given to stop us.”
The day before the most recent outbreak of violence, a panel, led by former UN chief Kofi Annan, claimed that to avoid further violence the Myanmar government must establish political, security and developmental initiatives. Furthermore, the panel stated the necessity of lifting restrictions on the Muslim Rohingya minority. The panel provided a number of solutions, which seem to be the most likely way to end the tensions in Myanmar. However, this requires the government to provide equal rights to the group, which seems increasingly unlikely given the alleged atrocities.