Rohingya rebellion in Western Burma
|Rohingya insurgency in Western Burma (1947–)|
|Part of the internal conflict in Burma|
|Government of Burma|| Mujahideen
|Commanders and leaders|
|Brigadier Aung Gyi
Maj-Gen Mya Thin Maj-Gen Win Myint Maj-Gen Tun Nay Lin
| Omra Meah
|1,100 (in 1947-1950))||2,000-5,000 (in 1947-1950)
2,000 (in 1952) 
|Casualties and losses|
Around 800,000 Muslim Rohingyas live in Burma with around 80% living in the western state of Rakhine. Most of them have been denied citizenship by the Burmese government. The United Nations consider the Rohingya one of the world's most persecuted minorities. Local authorities limit that amount of children Rohingya Muslims can have to two, a move criticised by the UN.
Their initial ambition during Mujahideen movements (1947-1961) was to separate the Rohingya-populated Mayu frontier region of Arakan from western Burma and annex that region into newly formed neighbouring East Pakistan (present-day Bangladesh).
In the 1970s, their uprisings appeared again during the period of the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971. Recently, during the Arakan State Riots, the aspiration of the Rohingya militant groups, according to various media reports, is to create northern part of Arakan an independent or autonomous state.
Since 2012, violence has been on the increase. A UN Special Rapporteur said that discrimination against the Rohingya Muslims was one of the underlying causes of the outbreak of violence. In January 2014, reports emerged of a massacre in the Rakhine village of Du Char Yar Tan. This was denied by the Burmese government. A UN team visited the scene and reported of alarming levels of violence, including the killings of many civilians.
- 1 The Mujahideen separatist movements (1947-70)
- 2 Rohingya Islamist Movement (1971-present)
- 3 Arakan State riots (2012)
- 4 Commentary upon the Rohingya insurgency
- 5 References
The Mujahideen separatist movements (1947-70)
The Mujahideen insurgency in Arakan (1947-1961)
A widespread armed insurgency started with the formation of a political party Jami-a-tul Ulema-e Islam led by the Chairman Omra Meah with the material support of Ulnar Mohammad Muzahid Khan and Molnar Ibrahim. The ambition of the Mujahideen insurgency was to merge the Mayu frontier district of Arakan into East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). Before the independence of Burma, in May 1946, some Muslim leaders from Arakan addressed themselves to Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, and asked his assistance in annexing of the Mayu region to Pakistan which was about to be formed. Two months later, the North Arakan Muslim League was founded in Akyab (modern: Sittwe, capital of Arakan State). It demanded annexation to Pakistan.
The Burmese central government refused to grant a separate Muslim state in the Mayu region where two townships (Buthidaung and Maungdaw) lie. As a consequence, the Mujahids from Northern Arakan declared jihad on Burma. The Mujahid militants began their insurgent activities in the Buthidaung and Maungdaw townships (Mayu region) of Burma that lies on Burma-East Pakistan border. One of the major figures in the insurgency was Abdul Kassem.
Within a few years, Mujahid rebels made rapid progress and banished the Arakanese villages. The Arakanese inhabitants of Buthidaung and Maungdaw were forced to leave their homes. In June 1949, the Burmese government's control was reduced to Akyab city only, while the Mujahids were in possession of all of northern Arakan. The Burmese government accused the Mujahids of encouraging illegal immigration into Arakan of thousands of Bengali people from East Pakistan.
Military operations against the Mujahideen
Martial Law was declared in November 1948 as the rebellion greatly intensified and the rebels even surrounded the towns in the Mayu region. The 5th Battalion of Burma Rifles and 2nd Chin Battalion were immediately sent to the surrounded area. the Mujahid insurgency collapsed and the Muslim insurgents fled to the jungles of northern Arakan.
The Burmese army launched major military operations against the Mujahideens in Northern Arakan between 1950 and 1954. The first operation was in March 1950, the second was the "Mayu Operation" in October 1952. In the second half of 1954, Mujahids again renewed their action and again reinstated their superiority over Maungdaw, Buthidaung and Rathedaung.
Arakanese Buddhist monks protested in a hunger strike in Rangoon (now: Yangon) against the Mujahids. As a result of this pressure, the government launched "Operation Monsoon" in October 1954. The major centres of the Mujahids were captured and several of their leaders were killed. Since then, their thread had been vastly reduced. Their ranks broke up into small units of armed groups which continued to loot and terrorize local people in the remote regions of Northern Arakan. In 1957, 150 Mujahids led by Shore Maluk and Zurah Than surrendered. On 7 November 1957, 214 Mujahids under the leadership of Rashid surrendered their arms.
On 4 July 1961, 290 Mujahids of the southern region of Maungdaw surrendered their arms in front of Brigadier Aung Gyi, then Deputy Commander-in-Chief of the Burmese Army. In the beginning of the 1960s, the insurgents felt that there was no longer any hope for their rebellion due to negotiations between Burma and Pakistani governments on handling of the rebels on border areas. On 15 November 1961, the remaining few hundreds Mujahids surrendered before Brigadier Aung Gyi in the eastern region of Buthidaung.
Decline and fall of the Mujahideens (1962-1970)
After the coup d'etat of General Ne Win in 1962, the Mujahideen activities were less active and almost disappeared. After the final surrender of Mujahideens in 1961, strength of insurgents reduced to a couple of dozens in numbers. Zaffar led the remaining Mujahids. At the same time, Abdul Latif's Mujahideen group of 40 rebels and Annul Jauli's faction of 80 insurgents also played separately in Burma-East Pakistan border. Their activity ended up on the borderline as rice smugglers.
Rohingya Islamist Movement (1971-present)
Radicalist Movements (1971-1988)
During Bangladesh's Liberation War in 1971, Rohingyas who resided in the borderline got opportunity to collect weapons from the war. On 15 July 1972, the remained Mujahid rebel leader Zaffar founded the Rohingya Liberation Party (RLP) after mobilizing the scattered Mujahid factions. Chairman of RLP was Zaffar, Vice-Chairman & in-charge for military affairs was Abdul Latif and Secretary was Muhammad Jafar Habib, a graduate from Rangoon University. Their strength increased from 200 in the beginning to 500 in 1974. RLP based in the jungles of Buthidaung. After Military Operation conducted by the Burmese Army in July 1974, Zaffar and most of his followers fled to neighboring Bangladesh and the role of Zaffar disappeared.
After the failure of RLP movements, Muhammad Jafar Habib (the former Secretary of RLP) founded the Rohingya Patriotic Front (RPF) in 1974 with a strength of 70 guerrillas. RPF's Chairman was Muhammad Jafar Habib, Vice-Chairman was Nurul Islam, a Rangoon-educated lawyer, and CEO was Muhammad Yunus, a medical doctor.
In March 1978, Ne Win's Burmese government launched a campaign called Operation King Dragon in Arakan with an intention to check illegal immigrants residing in Burma. As the operation was extended to other parts of Arakan, tens of thousands of Rohingyas crossed the border to Bangladesh. As a result, Rohingyas from Burma sprung up along the Burma-Bangladesh border. Radical Rohingya militant group RPF took this opportunity in recruiting many Rohingya Muslims who were sprung up along the Bangladesh-Burma border.
In the early 1980s, more radical elements broke away from the Rohingya Patriotic Front (RPF) and formed the Rohingya Solidarity Organisation (RSO). It was led by Muhammad Yunus, the former CEO of RPF. It soon became the main and most militant faction among the Rohingyas on the Burma-Bangladesh border. RSO based itself on religious ground; and as a result, it obtained various support from the groups of the Muslim world. These included JeI in Bangladesh and Pakistan, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s Hizb-e-Islami (HeI) in Afghanistan, Hizb-ul-Mujahideen (HM) in the Indian State of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) and the Angkatan Belia Islam sa-Malaysia (ABIM), and the Islamic Youth Organisation of Malaysia.
Another Rohingya militant group, Arakan Rohingya Islamic Front (ARIF) was founded in 1986 by Nurul Islam, the former Vice-Chairman of Rohingya Patriotic Front (RPF), after uniting the remnants of the old RPF and a handful of defectors from the RSO.
Military Expansions and connections with Taliban and Al-Qaeda (1988-2011)
The military camps of the Rohingya Solidarity Organization (RSO) were located in the Cox's Bazaar district in southern Bangladesh. RSO possessed a large number of light machine-guns, AK-47 assault rifles, RPG-2 rocket launchers, claymore mines and explosives according to a field report conducted by a famous correspondent Bertil Lintner in 1991. Arakan Rohingya Islamic Front (ARIF) was mostly equipped with UK-made 9mm Sterling L2A3 sub-machine guns, M-16 assault rifles and point-303 rifles. Afghan's Taliban instructors were seen in some of the RSO camps along the Bangladesh-Burma border, while nearly 100 RSO rebels were reported to be undergoing training in the Afghan province of Khost with Hizb-e-Islami Mujahideen.
Among the more than 60 videotapes obtained by CNN from Al-Qaeda's archives in Afghanistan in August 2002, one video showed that Muslim allies from "Burma" got training in Afghanistan. Some video tapes were shot in RSO camps in Bangladesh. These videos which show the linkage between Al-Qaeda and Rohingya insurgents were shot in the 1990s. Besides, RSO recruited many Rohingya guerrillas. According to Asian intelligence sources, Rohingya recruits were paid 30,000 Bangladeshi taka ($525) on joining and then 10,000 taka ($175) per month. The families of recruits killed in action were offered 100,000 taka ($1,750). Rohingya recruits, believed to be quite substantial in numbers, were taken to Pakistan, where they were trained and sent on further to military camps in Afghanistan. They were given the most dangerous tasks in the battlefield.
The expansion of the RSO in the late 1980s and early 1990s made the Burmese government to launch a massive counter-offensive to clear up the Burma-Bangladesh border. In December 1991, Burmese troops crossed the border and attacked a Bangladeshi military outpost. The incident developed into a major crisis in Bangladesh-Burma relations, and by April 1992, more than 250,000 Rohingya civilians had been forced out of Arakan, western Burma. During these happenings in April 1992, Prince Khaled Sultan Abdul Aziz, commander of the Saudi Arabian Military, visited Dhaka and recommended to wage a military action against Burma like Operation Desert Storm in Iraq.
In April 1994, about 120 members of RSO militant group entered Maungdaw Township by crossing the Naf River which marks the border between Bangladesh and Burma. On 28 April 1994, nine out of 12 time bombs planted in 12 different places in Maungdaw by RSO militants exploded. One fire engine and some buildings were damaged, while four civilians were seriously wounded in the explosions.
On 28 October 1998, Rohingya Solidarity Organization (RSO) and Arakan Rohingya Islamic Front (ARIF) combined together and the Rohingya National Council (RNC) was founded. The Rohingya National Army (RNA) was also established as its armed wing; and, the Arakan Rohingya National Organization (ARNO) appeared to organize all the different Rohingya insurgents into one group.
|“||Five members (names still under inquiry by the GOB) of ARNO attended a high-ranking officers' course with Al Qaeda representatives on 15 May 2000 and arrived back in Bangladesh on 22 June. During the course, they discussed matters relating to political and military affairs, arms and ammunition, and financing with Osama Bin Laden. Mohamed Arju Taida and Mohamed Rau-Sheik Ar-Mar Darsi from the Taliban were present with them at the meeting. Ninety members of ARNO were selected to attend a guerrilla warfare course, a variety of explosives courses and heavy-weapons courses held in Libya and Afghanistan in August, 2001. Thirteen out of these selected members participated in the explosives and heavy-weapons training.||”|
|“||Arrival of Two Talibans at ARNO Headquarters:
Al Ha-Saud and Al Ja-hid, two members of Taliban group, arrived at ARNO's headquarters in Zai-La-Saw-Ri Camp on 2 November 2001 from the Rohingya Solidarity Organization's (RSO) Kann-Grat-Chaung camp. They met with Nur Islam (Chairman), ZaFaur-Ahmed (Secretary) and Fayos Ahmed (acting Chief-of-Staff Army), ARNO, and discussed the reorganization of RSO and ARNO. It was learned that ARNO/RSO and Taliban groups planned to hold a meeting on 15 November 2001. Nurul Islam, Chairman of ARNO, also declared that the Arakan Rohingya Islamic Front (ARIF) and the Rohingya Solidarity Organization (RSO) had agreed to reorganize as integrated members of ARNO. However, Mullah Dil-Mar from RSO did not agree with this re-organization and resigned with his entourage of insurgents.
In March 2011, between 80 to 100 Rohingya Muslim men in Maungdaw Township of Burma-Bangladesh border were arrested by Burma Frontier Forces accusing them of belonging to a terrorist ring linked to the Taliban. According to the source, a Taliban militant known as Moulivi Harun had given the group training in combat and bomb making deep in the jungles of northern Maungdaw on the Bangladesh border in February, 2011. Among the suspected people allegedly linked to Talibans, 19 people were brought before the court in March and April, 2011. Twelve of the 19 suspects in associating with the Taliban and other Islamic militant groups were sentenced to various jail terms on 6 September 2011.
Arakan State riots (2012)
On the evening of 28 May, a group of men robbed, raped and murdered an ethnic Buddhist Rakhine woman, Ma Thida Htwe, near the Kyaut Ne Maw village. Mentionable is that Ma Thida Htwe was raped and murdered by a group of three Muslim youths near her village Tha Pri Chaung on May 28 in 2012, when she was returning home from Kyauk Ni Maw Village of Rambree township. The locals claim the culprits to have been Rohingya Muslims. The police arrested three suspects and sent them to Yanbye township jail. On 3 June, a mob attacked a bus in Taungup, apparently mistakenly believing those responsible for the murder were on board. Ten people were killed in the roits, prompting protests by Burmese Muslims in the commercial capital, Yangon. The government responded by appointing a minister and a senior police chief to head an investigation committee. The committee was ordered to find out "cause and instigation of the incident" and to pursue legal action. As of 2 July, 30 people had been arrested over the killing of ten Buddhists & Muslims.
The June riots saw various attacks by Buddhist Rakhines and Rohingya Muslims on each other's communities, including destruction of property.
In 2012, there have been a series of ongoing conflicts between ethnic Arakanese and Rohingya Muslims in northern Arakan State, Burma. In January 2012, six months before Arakan State Riots, a Bengladeshi newspaper reported about the merge of different Rohingya militant groups in Bangladesh. According to the news, Rohingya Solidarity Organization (RSO), Arakan Movement, Arakan People’s Freedom Party and Arakan Rohingya National Organization (ARNO) decided to group into alliance and work together. Top leaders included are Muhammad Yunus (Chairman of RSO) and Nurul Islam (ARNO President).
During the beginning days of the riots, Bangladeshi foreign Minister Dipu Moni alleged that Bangladesh extremist party Jamaat-e-Islam patronized the Rohingyas for arm activities. According to BanglaNews24, Dipu Moni, while addressing at the parliament, said that the Burmese government informed Bangladesh High Commission by accusing the involvement of Jamaat-e-Islam in creating racial clash in Arakan State, Western Burma. In September 2012, according to the Daily Star Newspaper, the activities of Rohingya militant outfit Jamaatul Arakan, believed to be an offshoot of Jamaatul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), a banned militant outfit in Bangladesh, was surfaced by Bangladeshi police in Cox's Bazaar district, Bangladesh-Burma border.
During these days, Bangladeshi News Agencies reported about the unification of Arakan Rohingya Union (ARU) after the combination of about a dozen Rohingya and Bangladeshi militant groups. News reported about their dream to create an new state by the name of "Independent Neurosia" by accusing them to have connection with some Pakistani based terrorist groups.
Riots in Arakan happened for the second time in the last week of October 2012. Just a few weeks after the riots, military activities of Rohingya rebels appeared again. On 7 November 2012, one soldier from the Burmese Army was reportedly beheaded and three others were captured by the Muslim rebels, by an armed group of the Rohingya Solidarity Organization (RSO), in their guerrilla offensive against the Burmese army in northern Maungdaw township on the Burma-Bangladesh border. On 11 November 2012, fighting between the Burmese army and an unknown armed Muslim rebels, took place near Maungdaw on the western frontier of Burma.
Commentary upon the Rohingya insurgency
During the Bangladesh Liberation War and after its independence in 1971, there was an extent of illegal immigration in Arakan due to the impact of political turmoil in Bangladesh. In 1974, Arakan State was formed according to the new constitution of Burma. In the same year, "Emergency Immigration Act" was endorsed and reaction against illegal immigration were carried out by the Burmese government. In 1975, migration of several thousand Muslims to Bangladesh happened.
It is difficult to know if they were recent immigrants from Bangladesh or Rohingyas who have lived in Arakan long time before the independence of Burma. In 1978, Operation King Dragon was launched to "scrutinize each individual living in the State and taking action against foreigners who have filtered into the country illegally". Arrests of illegal migrants during this Operation involved by the Burmese army creates unrest in Arakan and; as a result, a mass exodus of Muslims (around 252,000 refugees) to Bangladesh happened. Between August 1978 and December 1979, repatriation was led by the UNHCR and most of them resettled again in western Burma. On 15 October 1982, Burmese Citizenship Law was introduced and most of the Rohingyas were denied to be Burmeese citizens.
On 18 September 1988, the Burmese military seized power by crushing the pro-democracy uprisings in Burma and formed a military regime by the name of SLORC - State Law and Order Restoration Council. After a few years of the introduction of military rule, in 1991-92, forced relocation of Muslims and creation of new Buddhist settlements in Buthidaung and Maungdaw townships by SLORC provoke another mass exodus of Rohingya Muslims to Bangladesh, making 270,000 Rohingya refugees. In 1993, most of them were repatriated due to UNHCR intervention; however, around 20,000 registered refugees still remained in some camps along the Bangladesh-Burma border.
Academic discussion of the Mujahideen insurgency
Moshe Yegar, an Israeli historian, argues that Mujahideen separatist movement in Arakan occurred because of the government's discrimination and oppression on Rohingya Muslims. Yegar argues the roots for the appearance of Mujahideen insurgency as follows:
|“||After Burma's independence, Muslims were not accepted for military service; the Burmese government replaced Muslim civil servants, police and headmen by Arakanese who increasingly discriminated against the Muslim community; Muslims were arbitrarily arrested by police and soldiers; and, the immigration authorities imposed limitation of movement upon Muslims.||”|
Mari Lall argues that one of the reasons of the Mujahideen Muslim uprisings in Arakan was due to the government's declaration of Buddhism as the official religion of Burma. This declaration questioned the rights of the Muslim Rohingya, Christian Karen, Chin, Kachin and led the secessionist movements of those minority groups. Her argument was supported by Syed Serajul Islam. Syed writes:
|“||Immediately after declaring Buddhism as the state religion of Burma, the government took a number of specific measures to dismiss a great many Muslim officers and replace them with Buddhists. An all-out effort was made to transmigrate Buddhists from Burma proper to Arakan in order to diminish the Muslim majority.||”|
However, above arguments contradicted the authentic events that happened within the historical time-line of Burma. Moshe Yegar's arguments on the possible causes of Mujahideen insurgency was criticized by a reviewer on Yegar's book: "Muslims of Burma".
|“||[Yegar's] arguments seem to be anachronistic. Firstly, we have to note that Muslim separatist movements in Arakan had already begun before Burma’s independence together with an idea of separating the Mayu region of Arakan from Burma and creating an independent Muslim state. In May, 1946, Muslims of Arakan asked Mohammad Ali Jinna’s assistance in the annexing of this region to forthcoming Pakistan. Secondly, the Mujahidden rebellion (1947-1961) happened under U Nu’s parliamentary democracy rule. Available records for this democratic period do not show any trace on the discrimination against Muslims – even Muslim ministers were holding high positions within U Nu’s democracy government. Thirdly, such discrimination and oppression were only carried out by Burmese authorities under the military dictatorship of General Ne Win (1962-1988). It seems that Moshe Yegar anachronistically utilized the Muslims’ conditions under the Ne Win regime as the roots of the Mujahidden separatist movements.||”|
Second argument on the Mudjahideen insurgency in relationship to the declaration of Buddhism as the State Religion of Burma also does not match with the historical authenticity. Buddhism was declared as the official religion of Burma on 26 July 1961, more than a decade after the start of Mujahideen insurgency in 1947.
Aye Chan, a historian at the Kanda University, suggests that the roots of Mujahideen movements in Arakan (1947) originated from the communal violence between Arakanese and Rohingya Muslims during World War II in 1942. On 28 March 1942, Rohingya Muslims from Northern Arakan massacred around 20,000 Buddhists in Buthidaung and Maungdaw townships. At the same period, around 5,000 Muslims in Minbya and Mrauk-U Townships were also killed by the Arakanese Buddhists . Such violence happened because the British armed Muslim groups in northern Arakan to create a buffer zone from the Japanese invasion when they retreated  and Muslims were promised by the British that if they supported the Allies they would be given their own "national area".
However, as a consequence of acquiring arms, Rohingyas Muslims tried to destroy the Arakanese Buddhist villages instead of resisting against the Japanese during World War II. And, Rohingya-Arakanese conflict occurred in 1942 leading to casualties on both sides. When a new Islamic country of Pakistan was about to be formed, Rohingya Muslim groups, who already possessed arms in their hands and wanted to obtain a "national area" according to the promise given by the British, demanded the secession of the Mayu region of Western Burma so as to combine that area with East Pakistan. Mujahideen uprisings in Arakan occurred due to an impact of World World II and its aftermath, the creation of a new Islamic State, East Pakistan, in the neighboring area of the Rohingya Muslim settlements in western Burma.
Perceptions of the conflict
Burmese Military Regime's policy on Rohingyas as seen by the Amnesty International:
|“||The Rohingyas’ freedom of movement is severely restricted and the vast majority of them have effectively been denied Burma citizenship. They are also subjected to restrictions on more than two childbirths. Rohingyas allegedly continue to be used as forced labourers on roads and at military camps.||”|
The interpretation of the Burmese junta's attitude by the Rohingyas:
|“||Junta’s policy towards the Muslims of Burma: the ruling military junta practice is to stop Islamisation in Burma by cultural assimilation of illegal Muslims living in Arakans and other parts of Burma. Their main objective is to turn strategic Muslim Arakan into a Burmanised Buddhist region by relocating Muslims in mainland Burma to insignificant or manageable minorities.||”|
Jane's World Insurgency and Terrorism subscription service's remark on the causes of Rohingya militant movements:
|“||The Rohingya Solidarity Organization (RSO) aimed to prevent the alleged repression of ethnic Rohingyas in Burma and Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. The group also aimed to establish an Islamic autonomous Arakan state, uniting the Rohingya people of Burma and Bangladesh, by expelling the Burmese Buddhists and military through killings, harassment and the classical tactics of guerrilla warfare.||”|
"A Hand Book of Terrorism and Insurgency in Southeast Asia" assumes that human rights violations on Rohingyas by the Burmese junta such as restriction on mobility, Rohingyas' and evictions, settlement of non-Rohingya model villages near the Muslim areas, registration of births and deaths, and restriction of more than two child bearing marriage are the causes of the Rohingya insurgency.
But, in the early 1970s, it is found that the Rohingya militant movements re-appeared during the Bangladesh Liberation War along with the formation of a new country of Bangladesh like the emergence of Mujahideen movements in 1947-1950s along with the formation of East Pakistan. In the beginning of the 1970s during Bangladesh Liberation War, there was an extent of illegal immigration from Bangladesh to Western Burma and reaction against illegal immigration were carried out by the Burmese government. Such kind of initial reactions later led the Ne Win government towards the oppression against infiltrators in western Burma not only illegal immigrants but also on local radicalized Rohingyas in the late 1970s (See: Operation King Dragon)) campaign on Rohingyas in 1978). After 1988, new military regime which took power in Burma allegedly committed various kinds of human rights abuses and violations against different ethnic groups of Burma; and, as a bitter result, Rohingyas also became victims like many other Burmese ethnic groups.
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