Rohingya return pushed into further uncertainty | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, June 30, 2020 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, June 30, 2020

Rohingya return pushed into further uncertainty

Analysts cite conflict escalation in Myanmar

Escalation of conflicts between the Myanmar military and the Arakan Army, a rebel group seeking greater autonomy for ethnic Rakhine people, is pushing the Rohingya repatriation further into uncertainty, analysts say.

The conflicts have already left thousands displaced while more began fleeing homes in Rakhine state last week.

In such a situation, the international focus could be shifted to the conflicts from the Rohingya crisis and Myanmar may use it as a pretext for not repatriating the Rohingyas sheltered in Bangladesh, said the analysts.

Thousands of villagers fled their homes as the military last week launched an offensive against the Arakan Army (AA) in five villages in Rathedaung Township of Rakhine, based on information that the villages harboured AA fighters, the Myanmar Times reported.

UK-based rights group Burma Human Rights Network said the residents of 39 villages had begun to flee since Wednesday when a local administrator in a letter warned village leaders that the army was planning "clearance operations" against "terrorists".

The offensive was launched days after three border police and their civilian drivers were killed in an ambush by the AA in Koetenkauk village on June 23. Four more police officers and a civilian were injured.

The AA, which was formed in 2009, warned recently that it would continue attacking troops in the area until the Tatmadaw withdrew from Rakhine. The Tatmadaw is the official name of the armed forces of Myanmar.

In a recent report, International Crisis Group, a non-profit NGO working to resolve deadly conflicts, said terming the Arakan Army a terrorist group by the Myanmar government since escalation of fighting in early last year and ordering a tough military response against the AA have exacerbated the grievances underlying the conflict and made a negotiated end to the fighting more difficult to attain.

Rakhine saw the most brutal attack against the Rohingyas in August 2017. It forced some 750,000 Rohingyas to flee to Bangladesh. The UN termed the operations a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.

The International Court of Justice ordered provisional measures to prevent any further genocide against the Rohingyas in response to The Gambia's genocide case against Myanmar.

Bangladesh's major concern, however, is repatriation of the Rohingyas.

But Rohingyas say there is no guarantee of citizenship, safety and freedom of movement in Rakhine as Myanmar made no legal change to grant equal rights to them.

"Now, with the infighting between Arakan Army and military escalating, Myanmar could say that they are facing insurgency and cannot normalise the situation. This could be a strategy for Myanmar," said security analyst Brig Gen (retd) M Shakhawat Hossain.

On the other hand, the global pressure for the repatriation, which has not been enough so far because of powerful nations' financial stakes in Myanmar, has further come down due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Against such a backdrop, Myanmar, instead of finding a political solution, is dealing with the insurgency militarily, he said.

"Involving naval and air forces by Myanmar against the Arakan Army is a new dimension to the crisis," Shakhawat Hossain said.

Meanwhile, the AA also seems to gathered more strength as it killed a number of Myanmar soldiers and members of security forces and is now seeking not only more autonomy but independence.

Prof Imtiaz Ahmed of international relations at Dhaka University says though Myanmar has an elected government, it is heavily dominated by the army that is dealing everything "militarily", but interestingly the western powers overlook it and continues offering financial and trade privileges to Myanmar.

"That's how Myanmar is also not caring anything and anybody," he said.

Prof Imtiaz said if the UN Security Council, which has so far not taken any concrete steps against Myanmar over the Rohingya issue mainly due to China's veto power, does not act decisively against Myanmar now, the armed conflicts in Rakhine could turn into a bigger regional threat.

The investments made by India and China -- two rivals -- in Rakhine and their dreams of establishing regional connectivity in South, Southeast and East Asia through Rakhine would fail, he said.

Also, the Rohingya repatriation, which is the most important issue for Bangladesh, could be jeopardised, he said. Trafficking of the Rohingyas through the sea from the coasts of Rakhine and Cox's Bazar to Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia could also grow in the coming days, said Prof Imtiaz.

"In that case, the Rohingyas' proposal on creating a safe zone by deploying international forces should be actively considered. The UN Security Council should come up to address the crisis at the soonest before it turns into a bigger regional crisis," he told The Daily Star yesterday.


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