US: Myan­mar crack­down may rad­i­cal­ize Ro­hingya Re­li­gious ten­sions high in South­east Asia

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

WASH­ING­TON: It’s a scene straight out of Myan­mar’s dark past: a mil­i­tary of­fen­sive waged be­yond world view that forces eth­nic mi­nor­ity vil­lagers from the smol­der­ing ru­ins of their homes. The US gov­ern­ment, a key spon­sor of Myan­mar’s demo­cratic tran­si­tion, says a se­cu­rity crack­down that has dis­placed tens of thou­sands Ro­hingya Mus­lims and left an un­known num­ber dead risks rad­i­cal­iz­ing a down­trod­den peo­ple and stok­ing re­li­gious ten­sions in South­east Asia.

The mil­i­tary moved in af­ter armed at­tacks by un­known as­sailants on po­lice posts along the bor­der with Bangladesh in Oc­to­ber. The at­tacks in Rakhine State were a pos­si­ble sign that a small num­ber of Ro­hingya were start­ing to fight back against per­se­cu­tion by ma­jor­ity Bud­dhists who view them as il­le­gal im­mi­grants although many have lived in Myan­mar for gen­er­a­tions.

The top US diplo­mat for East Asia, Daniel Rus­sel, is crit­i­cal of the mil­i­tary’s heavy-handed ap­proach and says the es­ca­la­tion of vi­o­lence risks in­cit­ing ji­hadist ex­trem­ism in the coun­try also known as Burma. He is also call­ing on neigh­bor­ing coun­tries, such as Mus­lim-ma­jor­ity Malaysia and In­done­sia, to re­sist the urge to stage protests that could fur­ther stir re­li­gious pas­sions. As­sis­tant Sec­re­tary of State Rus­sel told The As­so­ci­ated Press that, “if mis­han­dled, Rakhine State could be in­fected and in­fested by ji­hadism which al­ready plagues neigh­bor­ing Bangladesh and other coun­tries.”

The plight of the Ro­hingya, once char­ac­ter­ized by the UN as the world’s most friend­less peo­ple, has at­tracted the at­ten­tion of Mus­lim ex­trem­ists since a spike in in­ter­com­mu­nal vi­o­lence in Rakhine in 2012 that left hun­dreds dead and forced more than 100,000 into squalid camps. The So­mali-born stu­dent who launched a car-and-knife at­tack at Ohio State Univer­sity this week re­port­edly protested on his Face­book page about the killing of mi­nor­ity Mus­lims in Myan­mar. And last week­end, In­done­sian au­thor­i­ties ar­rested two mil­i­tants who were al­legedly plan­ning to at­tack the Myan­mar Em­bassy in Jakarta.

It has also raised hack­les in the politi­cal main­stream. Malaysia’s Prime Min­is­ter Na­jib Razak, fac­ing do­mes­tic pres­sure over an in­vest­ment fund scan­dal, is re­port­edly plan­ning to at­tend a protest in his re­li­giously moder­ate coun­try this week­end con­demn­ing the mil­i­tary op­er­a­tion in Myan­mar. Daniel Sul­li­van at the ad­vo­cacy group Refugees In­ter­na­tional said in­creas­ing num­bers of Ro­hingya are flee­ing across the land bor­der to Bangladesh, and the spike in vi­o­lence could set off an­other ex­o­dus by sea.

Tens of thou­sands of Ro­hingya have fled by rick­ety boats in re­cent years to coun­tries like Thai­land, Malaysia and In­done­sia, but those routes have been blocked since a cri­sis in 2015 when thou­sands were stranded at sea. The US and other na­tions have called for an in­de­pen­dent in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the lat­est vi­o­lence in Rakhine. Es­ti­mates of the death toll range be­tween dozens and sev­eral hun­dred. Hu­man Rights Watch said Nov 21 that satel­lite im­agery showed at least 1,250 build­ings have been de­stroyed.

With jour­nal­ists barred from the af­fected area, it’s been near-im­pos­si­ble to sub­stan­ti­ate re­ports of rapes and killings by Myan­mar sol­diers - the kind of con­duct that has long blighted the mil­i­tary’s rep­u­ta­tion in eth­nic con­flicts. Adama Dieng, UN spe­cial ad­viser on the preven­tion of geno­cide, said this week that if re­ports of ex­ces­sive use of force in Rakhine were true, “the lives of thou­sands of peo­ple are at risk.”

An­nan comes to aid

For­mer UN Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral Kofi An­nan was ap­pointed by Myan­mar’s civil­ian leader Aung San Suu Kyi in Au­gust to find ways to help resolve the com­mu­nal ten­sions. On a fact-find­ing visit Fri­day, he said that se­cu­rity op­er­a­tions must not im­pede hu­man­i­tar­ian ac­cess. That’s been a re­peated de­mand from the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity, in­clud­ing the United States, but it’s made lit­tle im­pact.

The UN World Food Pro­gram said Fri­day that since Oct 9 it has been able to de­liver food or cash to only 20,000 of the 152,000 peo­ple who usu­ally re­ceive as­sis­tance, and to about 7,000 newly-dis­placed peo­ple. The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion has di­min­ished lever­age. It was in­stru­men­tal in end­ing the for­mer pariah state’s diplo­matic iso­la­tion as it shifted from five decades of mil­i­tary rule but the last US sanc­tions were lifted in Oc­to­ber.

The mil­i­tary’s crack­down in Rakhine has also ex­posed the lim­its of Suu Kyi’s power. The No­bel lau­re­ate’s party won elec­tions a year ago, but the mil­i­tary still con­trols key lev­ers of gov­ern­ment power, in­clud­ing ac­cess to sen­si­tive bor­der re­gions. Hu­man rights ac­tivists who once li­on­ized Suu Kyi now crit­i­cize her for fail­ing to de­fend the state­less Ro­hingya, but Rus­sel de­fended her. “We all should have con­fi­dence in her judg­ment and not fall prey to the idea that she does not get it and she does not care. She does get it, and she does care,” he said. — AP

JAKARTA: In this Nov 25, 2016, file photo, a Mus­lim wo­man wears a mask of Myan­mar’s For­eign Min­is­ter Aung San Suu Kyi dur­ing a rally against the per­se­cu­tion of Ro­hingya Mus­lims, out­side the Em­bassy of Myan­mar. — AP

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