Ex­ter­nal forces com­pli­cate Rakhine vi­o­lence

Global Times US Edition - - ASIANREVIEW - By Hein Khaing The au­thor is a Myan­mar-Chi­nese re­searcher and a PhD can­di­date at Fu­dan Univer­sity. opinion@glob­al­times.com.cn

The es­ca­lat­ing vi­o­lence in Rakhine state, Myan­mar, has been scru­ti­nized by the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity.

The Bud­dhist-ma­jor­ity state suf­fered its first wave of ter­ror­ist am­bushes on Oc­to­ber 9, 2016, when nine po­lice of­fi­cers were killed. Two at­tacks in un­der a year re­veal how eth­nic and re­li­gious con­tra­dic­tions be­tween Ro­hingya/Ben­gali and the in­dige­nous peo­ple of Rakhine have es­ca­lated to the level of ter­ror­ist in­ci­dents. Yet this ex­treme ter­ror and vi­o­lence in Rakhine is rooted in a pro­found dis­cord in the re­gion’s so­cial struc­ture, his­tory and cul­ture.

The Rakhine state has long suf­fered eth­nic and re­li­gious ten­sions. Ro­hingya Mus­lim mi­nor­ity, one of the world’s largest state­less South Asian com­mu­ni­ties, has long in­hab­ited Rakhine. Their iden­tity is the source of a vi­o­lent dis­pute.

The Ro­hingyas them­selves, as well as some sup­port­ive po­lit­i­cal and aca­demic fig­ures in the West, be­lieve the Ro­hingyas have dwelled in Myan­mar over 1,300 years.

But the Myan­mar gov­ern­ment and academia ar­gue the group can­not be re­garded as a lo­cal eth­nic group as they are in fact Ben­gali im­mi­grants who moved in af­ter Bri­tain oc­cu­pied Myan­mar in 1825.

The con­flicts of­ten come about through dif­fer­ent life­styles re­sult­ing from re­li­gious be­liefs.

Un­rest erupted on May 28, 2012 with the al­leged rape and killing of a young Bud­dhist woman by three Ro­hingya men. A wave of vengeance swept over Ro­hingya Mus­lims in Rakhine.

But the clashes on Au­gust 25 this year were or­ga­nized by ex­ter­nal ter­ror­ist forces, along­side Ro­hingya mil­i­tants, who staged deadly sur­prise raids on po­lice posts, killing of­fi­cers and se­cu­rity per­son­nel.

What was orig­i­nally a do­mes­tic af­fair grabbed global at­ten­tion and con­cern in the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity with geopo­lit­i­cal se­cu­rity implications.

The West, the UN and hu­man rights or­ga­ni­za­tions have crit­i­cized the Myan­mar mil­i­tary’s hu­man rights abuses in the Rakhine state, blam­ing the gov­ern­ment. Myan­mar to­day faces enor­mous pres­sure from the global com­mu­nity over the Rakhine is­sue.

Against this back­drop, Myan­mar State Coun­selor Aung San Suu Kyi in­vited for­mer UN sec­re­tary-gen­eral Kofi An­nan to chair an ad­vi­sory com­mis­sion on Rakhine and es­tab­lished a coun­cil led by Myan­mar Vice Pres­i­dent U Myint Swe to in­ves­ti­gate the at­tacks. Mean­while, the UN Hu­man Rights Coun­cil con­ducted in­de­pen­dent in­ves­ti­ga­tions.

An­nan de­liv­ered the fi­nal re­port of the ad­vi­sory com­mis­sion on Rakhine state to Myan­mar Pres­i­dent U Htin Kyaw, Com­man­der-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing and Suu Kyi on Au­gust 23-24. The se­nior gen­eral dis­agreed with the re­port, say­ing it failed to fully re­flect the true sit­u­a­tion.

Rokhine vi­o­lence has be­come more com­pli­cated, yet the Myan­mar gov­ern­ment, mil­i­tary, elites and pub­lic hold pas­sive and out­moded un­der­stand­ings of the is­sue, which can be di­vided into two phases.

Dur­ing Myan­mar’s pre­vi­ous U Thein Sein ad­min­is­tra­tion, eth­nic clashes in the Rakhine state in 2012 were deemed a lo­cal af­fair and hence down­played. The U Thein Sein gov­ern­ment un­der­es­ti­mated the im­por­tance of vi­o­lent con­flict­ing po­lit­i­cal forces in this state. The then-gov­ern­ment also un­der­rated at­tempts from those within the rul­ing party and op­po­si­tion par­ties to im­pose pres­sure on the gov­ern­ment via those con­flict­ing forces.

Since the Na­tional League for Democ­racy took power in 2016, the gov­ern­ment has fo­cused more on the for­eign el­e­ments in­volved in the Rakhine is­sue. Al­though Suu Kyi es­tab­lished the ad­vi­sory com­mis­sion on Rakhine state led by An­nan, she has faced mas­sive na­tion­wide op­po­si­tion as she is blamed for ex­ter­nal forces al­legedly in­ter­fer­ing in Myan­mar’s in­ter­nal af­fairs.

Thus the Rakhine is­sue has be­come entwined with mount­ing pres­sure from the global com­mu­nity, uni­ver­sal val­ues, Myan­mese na­tion­al­ism and so­cio-eco­nomic in­ter­ests. Myan­mar au­thor­i­ties must per­form a far-sighted bal­anc­ing act be­tween na­tion­al­ist forces within the coun­try while man­ag­ing com­pli­cated in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions: a hefty bur­den for a gov­ern­ment that has ruled Myan­mar less than 18 months.

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