This is the first of a five-part series on ARSA for which Dhaka Tribune’s Adil Sakhawat interviewed almost 20 ARSA members, including top leaders of the organisation. This series details the history, organisation structure, leadership, funding and affiliations of ARSA, and is a chronicle of the events leading to the ARSA attack on Myanmar Army outpost on August 24
According to Rohingya sources, the Myanmar military may have known about the attacks on police outposts and intentionally allowed it to happen on August 25, in order to serve their agenda of branding the Rohingya as terrorists.
Furthermore, they claimed that the army had begun harassing the Rohingya under the guise of searching for terrorists as early as in the last week of July, rather than after the attacks on August 25.
“Generally, the Rohingya need to face all check posts in our areas. But for an unknown reason, on that day (August 24) when so many ARSA fighters were moving frequently, they were not stopped,” said a Rohingya religious scholar, many of whose students were members of ARSA.
“History says they (the Myanmar military) know everything. If there is a bullet in a house, they know where it is located. As the military has plans to destroy all the Rohingya and they have informers among the Rohingya as well, they know everything. They also let Ata Ullah (chief commander of ARSA) conduct the attack (on August 25) so that they can show that the insurgency is a terrorist organisation and brand all Rohingya as such,” the religious scholar claimed, saying the military probably also knows where Ata Ullah lives and operates.
He added that the attack by ARSA seems to not have been the best way to fight the Myanmar military as, despite strong support for the insurgent group at the time, it only seems to have served the military’s agenda.
“Of course we need to stand up against the oppressive Myanmar government, but at the same time we also need to think about how the whole world is observing Muslims now and trying to tag us as terrorists. The Rohingya are also Muslims, and the Myanmar military was ready to destroy us. So what ARSA did, that is not the right way I think,” he said.
Though some of the older members of the Rohingya community are questioning the effectiveness of the attack in this manner, many of the younger members of the community remain in support of ARSA.
“When we receive the Ameer’s (Ata Ullah’s) instruction, we are ready to go and fight,” two youthful ARSA members said.
They added that many ARSA with similar levels of conviction were still waiting for orders from Ata Ullah in Myanmar.
Meanwhile, ARSA sources also said that the attack had originally been planned for August 26, but was expedited after accidental detonations of explosives on August 24.
“A group of our members, led by Senior Commander Mufti Jiyabur Rahman, were planting explosives for the planned attack at Gow Zon Dia (Alel Than Kyaw Ka Nyin Tan) on August 24. However, the bombs exploded ahead of time, killing seven ARSA members and injuring Commander Rahman,” an ARSA member said.
Local Rohingya people in Nurullah Fara, Bagguna and Sarfaddibill, all areas near Gow Zon Dia, confirmed hearing the bombs explode around 11pm on August 24.
ARSA members said that Ata Ullah subsequently issued an order through their dedicated Whatsapp groups, calling for the attacks to be brought forward to August 25, as the Myanmar military would have heard the explosions.
“The orders to attack came around 12am in some areas, and at 3:00am in others, as we have many different Whatsapp groups to make it more difficult to track us,” an ARSA source said.
Furthermore, they said they had received a hint that an operation was in the works even before the announcement, as they had observed an increase in the activity of their best trained and most informed members.
In addition, ARSA, on their official twitter account, had repeatedly called for the military to stop persecution of the Rohingya throughout August, after security forces had detained several members of the minority from Razar Bill (Auk Nan Yar) and Shoap Prang (Chut Pyin) of Rathedaung township of Myanmar in the last week of July.
The detained Rohingya, mostly young men, were never heard from again, Rohingya sources said.
Neyamutullah, a young Quran E Hafej from Chut Pyin who is now living in Balukhali camp, said: “The security forces suddenly started looking for ARSA people in our villages and barred villagers from going to market to buy essentials, alleging that we are all terrorists.”
Later, on August 4, the bodies of six people from the Buddhist Mro community were found with gunshot and machete wounds in the Mayu Mountain range near Maungdaw, and the military returned to Chut Pyin.
In this instance, when the military again came to detain members of the Rohingya minority from the village, Jolil, another former inhabitant of Chut Pyin, said the villagers stopped them and the military left empty handed.
However, Jolil added that security forces later returned and opened fire on the villagers, and there was a significant escalation of military presence in the area since the incident.
After this attack, on August 16, ARSA issued a statement on their twitter account, calling for the international community to put pressure on Myanmar to stop them from “confining the people of Rathedaung.”
As atrocities against the Rohingya people did not stop, ARSA members said they were compelled to carry out the attack on August 25. On the night, ARSA members attacked 30 security outposts in what they said was defensive action against the Myanmar military’s efforts to wipe out the Rohingya.
ARSA members also said they received widespread support from the Rohingya people on the night of the attack.
Earlier, on August 24, Rohingya activist Nay San lwin shared a number of videos on his Facebook page which showed the detention of people in Rauthedaung by Myanmar military, as well as many having received gunshot wounds from security forces.
Part 2: ARSA: The birth of an insurgency