MYANMAR The Arakan Army is also targeting the Rohingya, Myanmar’s new bitter future

MYANMAR The Arakan Army is also targeting the Rohingya, Myanmar’s new bitter future
MYANMAR The Arakan Army is also targeting the Rohingya, Myanmar’s new bitter future

Despite the internet blockade imposed by the coup junta, the United Nations speaks of “frightening and disturbing reports” on attacks against the civilian population of the Rohingya ethnic group. In recent months the coup junta, increasingly in difficulty on the field, has fueled inter-ethnic tensions by enlisting (even forcibly) the Rohingya against the local ethnic militia. A tragedy that is taking the country back to the times of sectarian violence.

Yangon (AsiaNews) – The atrocities committed in recent months in the western Burmese state of Rakhine appear to be the prelude to a new phase of violence that could affect the whole of Myanmar once the civil conflict between ethnic militias and the army is over. For days, several United Nations representatives have been speaking of “frightening and disturbing reports” on attacks against the civilian population of the Rohingya ethnic group by the military junta but also by the local ethnic militia, the Arakan Army, which controls much of the Rakhine territory .

“Once again, the world appears to be failing a desperate people in their hour of peril, as an inhumane, hate-driven disaster unfolds in Rakhine State,” where “alarming and credible reports of murders, enforced disappearances and widespread arson are emerging” , said Tom Andrews, UN special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar.

Around 45,000 Rohingya civilians, according to data released by the UN, have been displaced after a series of fires broke out in and around the city of Buthidaung, destroying houses and cultivated fields. The Rohingya pointed the finger at the Arakan Army, which in turn blamed the military junta for the airstrikes. The have confirmed the devastation caused by the fires between April and May, but the internet blockade imposed by the Burmese army prevents them from obtaining certain and verified information. and has now extended the fighting to the nearby municipality of Maungdaw, where there are “clear and evident risks of a serious spread of violence”, said Liz Throssell, spokeswoman for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, in recent days .

As the International Crisis Group reported in a report published earlier this month, tensions had been building for some time between the Arakan Army, dominated by ethnic Rakhine fighters and Buddhists, and the Rohingya, of Muslim faith.

Unlike other parts of the country, fighting in Rakhine erupted in November after the Arakan Army decided to join other ethnic militias in a joint offensive against the Burmese army. Until then, a ceasefire signed between the Arakan Army and the Burmese army, responsible for the coup d’état which started in February 2021, had essentially held (except for a period of a few months in the second half of 2022). to the conflict. Since then the ethnic militias (who have been fighting for greater autonomy in their territories since independence from the British Empire in 1948) have joined together and with other armed groups against the military regime, which appears increasingly in difficulty.

The Arakan Army has always fought for a Rakhine ethnic state. But 600,000 Rohingya also live in the region, to whom the Burmese government denies citizenship, considering them illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. In 2017 they were the main target of a campaign of repression by the army which is now the subject of a genocide trial by the United Nations. At least 750,000 people fled to neighboring Bangladesh to escape persecution.

Yet despite this, many Rohingya have joined the ranks of the army in recent months to fight against the Arakan Army, after in February the military junta, short of men after three years of fighting, forced men and women compulsory military service. Most of the recruitment is forced, but some Rohingya have enlisted voluntarily, the International Crisis Group report says: “Although fear and anger towards the Arakan Army appear to be part of their motivation, the regime would also raised the prospect of regular wages and, at least in some cases, the promise of citizenship. Influential Rohingya community leaders close to the military have also encouraged young people to enlist.”

The Burmese army has therefore fueled intercommunal tensions to weaken the Arakan Army, for example also collaborating with the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army – a militia that the military had designated as a “terrorist organization” and whose attacks against the police in 2017 they had given the pretext for the start of the campaign of repression against the Rohingya.

Twan Mrat Naing, the leader of the Arakan Army, has on several occasions defined the Rohingya as “Bengalis”, in a derogatory manner. This rhetoric has inflamed the situation, to the point that the military has managed to attract new fighters even from the Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh. “Sources in the camps told Crisis Group that thousands of would-be fighters have crossed the border into Myanmar in recent months, including children as young as fourteen; this recruitment campaign has intensified dramatically in recent days, with the enrollment of as many as 500 refugees,” the research center writes. “While some Rohingya are answering calls to fight for a homeland of their own, most recruits have been forced to serve against their will. This forced recruitment occurs openly in the camps, but Bangladeshi law enforcement has done little to stop it.”

Attacks on civilians by the Arakan Army risk fueling Rohingya conscription and the cycle of violence. Several observers have said that the current situation is reminiscent of that which arose between 2012 and 2017, when Rakhine was shaken by sectarian violence.

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