As the persecution on the Myanmar’s multi-cultural Muslims – collectively identified as Rohingyas – has increased manifold over the last couple of years, now the international community and the armed Islamist groups have come forward with just the opposite sets of solutions.
The majority of Rakhine Muslims do not support the armed struggle that they have been witnessing since the partition of India since they have to face the aftermath, brutal assaults by the military and other law enforcement agencies, and stricter rules.
The government, rights groups and individuals from Bangladesh are pressing the Myanmar government to recognise the Muslims as their citizens while the local and regional militant groups have declared all-out jihad as they consider it as the perfect time to avenge the recent atrocities carried out by the Myanmar military since the October 9 attacks on its border police.
Saudi-backed Rohingya militant group Harakah al-Yaqin (Faith Movement, HaY) claimed responsibility for the pre-planned attacks that killed nine policemen.
Recently, RSO has been blamed for occasional attacks on security forces in northern Rakhine State, for example deadly attacks on Border Guard Police patrols in northern Maungdaw in February and May 2014
Apart from the October 9 attacks, 11 additional strikes were carried out by the Rohingya militants all over the infected areas killing seven members of the army and wounding three others, the Myanmar government claims.
The al-Qaeda affiliate was formed after the 2012 sectarian violence in Rakhine with Muslim youths from Myanmar and the Bangladeshi Rohingya camps.
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According to the United Nations, some 69,000 Muslims have taken shelter in Bangladesh since October to save their life. These people are narrating horrific stories of mass murder, torture, rape and arson attacks by the military.
History of rebellion
The confrontation between the Muslims of different origins and Buddhists living in the Rakhine State led to a massacre during the World War II, and later the Muslims “fled to the north, where they were the majority, and Rakhine Buddhists moved south,” according to a recent report of the International Crisis Group (ICG) on the Rohingya insurgency.
A mujahidin rebellion erupted in April 1948, a few months after independence. The rebels initially explored the possibility of annexing northern Rakhine State to East Pakistan (now Bangladesh), but Pakistan rejected this.
They then sought the right as full citizens in an autonomous Muslim area in the north of the state and an end to discrimination by the Rakhine Buddhist officials who replaced the colonial administrators, the report states.
The whole region of Rakhine State is separated from the rest of the country by the Yuma range running north to south.
In response to the rebellion, the immigration authorities placed restrictions on the movement of Muslims from northern Rakhine to Sittwe, the state capital. “Some 13,000 Muslims who fled during the war and were living in refugee camps in India and East Pakistan were not permitted to return; those who did were considered illegal immigrants,” the ICG says.
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The rebels then targeted Rakhine Buddhist interests as well as the government, quickly seizing control of large parts of the north and expelling many Buddhist villagers. Law and order almost completely broke down, with two communist insurgencies (Red Flag and White Flag) in addition to the mujahidin, as well as Rakhine nationalist groups, including the (Marxist) Arakan People’s Liberation Party, in the south of the state.
“An embattled Burmese army, facing ethnic insurgencies across the country, controlled little of Rakhine other than Sittwe. In the violence and chaos, relations between Buddhist and Muslim communities deteriorated further,” says the ICG report. “Many moderate Rakhine Muslim leaders rejected the mujahidin insurgency, even vainly asking the government for arms to fight back.”
The Myanmar Army launched a massive offensive, Operation Monsoon, in 1954 that captured most of the mujahidin mountain strongholds on the then East Pakistan border. “The rebellion was eventually ended through ceasefires in 1961 and defeat of remaining groups, leaving only small-scale armed resistance and banditry.”
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The screengrab of a recent YouTube video shows Ata Ullah, the alleged spokesperson of Harakah al-Yaqin Dhaka Tribune
In 1961, the government established a Mayu Frontier Administration in northern Rakhine, administered by army officers rather than Rakhine officials. But a military coup the following year led to a more hardline stance toward minorities, and the Mayu Frontier Administration was dissolved. This prompted attempts to re-form the mujahidin movement that failed to gain significant local support.
Rebellion turns terrorism
Another military crackdown named Operation King Dragon began in 1978 as the mujahideens began to regroup. In 1974, the Rohingya Patriotic Front armed group was formed, inspired by the rise of pan-Islamist movements in the world, from the remnants of earlier failures.
It split into several factions, one of the more radical of which became the RSO armed group in 1982 when the government refused to recognise the Rohingya Muslims as citizens.
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The RSO split again in 1986, giving rise to the Arakan Rohingya Islamic Front (ARIF) splinter; in 1998, the two groups formed a loose alliance, the Arakan Rohingya National Organisation.
“In the 1980s and 1990s, the RSO had small bases in remote parts of Bangladesh near the Myanmar border but was not thought to have any inside Myanmar,” the ICG report says.
The RSO has also become something of a Rohingya militant brand that anyone can use, regardless of connections to the original organisation.
In its highest-profile attack, in April 1994, several dozen fighters entered Maungdaw from Bangladesh, including a group landed by boat in Myin Hlut village-tract, south Maungdaw.
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On April 28, bombs they planted in Maungdaw town caused damage and several civilian injuries, and fighters followed up with attacks on the town’s outskirts. The group did not receive strong local support, and the security forces, alerted by informants, quickly defeated them.
The RSO lost much of its strength by the end of the 1990s, though it kept an organisational structure in Bangladesh and did training and occasional small attacks on Myanmar security forces into the early-2000s.
A Myanmar military intelligence report, cited in a US diplomatic cable in 2002, made the “generally plausible” claim that 90 RSO/ARIF members attended a guerrilla-war course, and 13 also participated in explosives and heavy-weapons courses in Libya and Afghanistan in August 2001.
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Also in the early-2000s, the RSO had an active weapons and explosives training exchange with the JMB.
According to the confession of JMB founder Shayakh Abdur Rahman, he met with some RSO leaders during his visits to Cox’s Bazar and Bandarban in 1996-97. The leaders include Dween Mohammad, Salimullah and Abdur Rashid.
Earlier, the leadership of HujiB, an RSO aide formed in 1992, split due to differences over whether to focus on Bangladesh or Myanmar first.
Recently, RSO has been blamed for occasional attacks on security forces in northern Rakhine State, for example deadly attacks on Border Guard Police (BGP) patrols in northern Maungdaw in February and May 2014, including one on May 17 that killed four officers.
RSO operatives also engaged in fierce battles with the Myanmarese Lutin Force (riot police) in September 2013 and May 2014 in Naikkhyangchhari.
The group is blamed for operating armed criminal gangs for smuggling drugs and other contraband.
Apart from organised attacks, clashes between Muslims and Buddhists of Rakhine were also reported in 1997, 2001 and 2013 when more than 200 Muslims were killed.