Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army
|Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army|
|Leaders||Ataullah abu Ammar Jununi|
|Dates of operation||2013 – present|
9 October 2016 – present (militarily)
|Active regions||Northern Rakhine State|
|Size||~200 (January 2018)|
500–600 (2016–17 estimates)
|Battles and wars||Rohingya conflict|
|Designated as a terrorist group by|| Malaysia|
The Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), formerly known as Harakah al-Yaqin (lit. "faith movement" in English), is a Rohingya insurgent group active in northern Rakhine State, Myanmar. According to a December 2016 report by the International Crisis Group, it is led by Ataullah abu Ammar Jununi, a Rohingya man who was born in Karachi, Pakistan, and grew up in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. Other members of its leadership include a committee of Rohingya émigrés in Saudi Arabia.
Myanmar's Anti-Terrorism Central Committee declared ARSA a terrorist group on 25 August 2017 in accordance with the country's counter-terrorism law. ARSA is also considered a terrorist group by Malaysia.
ARSA has been accused by Myanmar's government of being involved with and subsidised by foreign Islamists, despite there being no firm evidence proving such allegations. ARSA subsequently released a statement on 28 August 2017, calling government allegations against it as "baseless" and claiming that its main purpose is to defend the rights of Rohingyas.
Prior to 2016
According to the International Crisis Group (ICG) and a spokesperson for ARSA, the group was formed in 2013, following the 2012 Rakhine State riots, under the name Harakah al-Yaqin (translated as "Faith Movement" in English). A former member of ARSA described how he was recruited by the group's leader, Ataullah abu Ammar Jununi, three years prior to the attacks in October 2016. Ataullah had approached villagers, asking for five to ten recruits to join his group and telling them that the time had come to "stop the mistreatment of the Rohingya people". Prior to the October 2016 attacks, ARSA had merely patrolled villages armed with bamboo sticks, making sure that villagers prayed at mosques. According to Rohingya locals and Burmese security officials, the group had again began approaching Rohingya men from various villages for recruitment six months prior to its first attack in October 2016, this time with the intention of training them across the border in Bangladesh for a future attack in Myanmar.
In October 2016, under the name Harakah al-Yaqin, the group claimed responsibility for attacks on Burmese border posts along the Bangladesh-Myanmar border, which left nine border officers and four soldiers dead. The Tatmadaw (Myanmar Armed Forces) announced on 15 November 2016 that a total of 69 insurgents had been killed by security forces in the recent fighting. The ICG reported on 14 December 2016 that in interviews with ARSA, its leaders claimed to have links to private donors in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. The ICG also released unconfirmed reports that Rohingya villagers had been "secretly trained" by Afghan and Pakistani fighters.
Burmese state media reported on 22 June 2017 that three insurgents had been killed by security forces in a raid on an insurgent camp supposedly belonging to ARSA, as part of a two-day "area clearance operation" by the government. Authorities confiscated gunpowder, ski masks and wooden rifles used for training.
In July 2017, the Burmese government accused ARSA of murdering 34 to 44 civilians and kidnapping 22 others in reprisal attacks against those ARSA have perceived as government collaborators. ARSA denied the accusations.
On 25 August 2017, the group claimed responsibility for coordinated attacks on at least two dozen police posts and an attempted raid on an army base. The government gave an official death toll of 77 Rohingya insurgents and 12 security forces in northern Maungdaw following the attacks. The government stated that ARSA insurgents had attacked a police station in the Maungdaw District with a handmade bomb alongside the coordinated attacks on several police posts. ARSA claimed they were taking "defensive actions" in 25 different locations and accused government soldiers of raping and killing civilians. The group also claimed that Rathedaung had been under a blockade for more than two weeks, starving the Rohingya, and that government forces were preparing to do the same in Maungdaw. The Myanmar Army also blamed ARSA for the killings of 99 Bengali Hindus in the Kha Maung Seik massacre, which occurred on the same day as the attacks.
In late August 2017, the Burmese government accused ARSA of killing 12 civilians, including Hindus and Muslims, some of whom were suspected by ARSA of being government informants. On 24 September 2017, Myanmar's military accused ARSA of killing 28 Hindus in Ye Baw Kya village in the previous month after they uncovered their bodies in a mass grave. ARSA released a statement on 28 August 2017, calling government allegations against it as "baseless" and stating that ARSA only seeks to defend Rohingyas and their rights. An ARSA spokesman also denied allegations that it was behind the killings and accused Buddhist nationalists of spreading lies to divide Hindus and Muslims. Bangladesh meanwhile has proposed joint military operations with Myanmar against ARSA.
A one-month unilateral ceasefire was declared by ARSA on 9 September 2017, in an attempt to allow aid groups and humanitarian workers safe access into northern Rakhine State. In a statement, the group urged the government to lay down their arms and agree to their ceasefire, which would have been in effect from 10 September until 9 October (the one-year anniversary of the first attacks on Burmese security forces by ARSA). The government rejected the ceasefire, with Zaw Htay, the spokesperson for the State Counsellor's office, stating, "We have no policy to negotiate with terrorists." ARSA responded on 7 October 2017 that they would respond to any peace initiatives proposed by Myanmar's government, but added that their one-month unilateral ceasefire was about to end. Despite the ceasefire ending on 9 October, the government stated that there were no signs of any new attacks.
On 9 November 2017, Myint Khyine, the Burmese secretary of the Immigration and Population Department, blamed the deaths of 18 village leaders in the last three months on ARSA in Muslim-majority Maungdaw and Buthidaung. The victims were village leaders who helped the Immigration and Population Department issue national verification cards to Rohingya residents.
In September 2017, Bangladeshi sources stated that the possibility of cooperation between Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and ARSA was "extremely high". Bangladesh's Minister of Road Transport and Bridges, Obaidul Quader, stated during a reception organised by the nation's deputy high commission in Kolkata, India that his country was investigating the allegations.
In November 2017, it was reported that members of the Rohingya diaspora in Malaysia were providing financial support to ARSA.
ARSA claimed responsibility for an ambush carried out on 5 January 2018 in the village of Turaing, which reportedly injured six members of Myanmar's security forces and a civilian driver.
In late November 2018, Hindu community leaders in Myanmar claimed that ARSA had been warning Hindu refugees in Bangladesh not to return to Rakhine State after Burmese authorities called for their repatriation.
On the 16 January, Myanmar state media reported that six police officers had been injured in an ambush by ten ARSA insurgents in Watkyein village bridge in Maungdaw. In March, ARSA's leadership called for their followers to cease criminal activities in refugee camps in Bangladesh. This was statement was made in response to reports of killings and abductions in the refugee camps. Bangladeshi media blamed ARSA for the crimes, while ARSA denies any responsibility.
ARSA claimed they had killed eleven members of Myanmar's security forces in the village of Laing Zero Wa on 30 March.
Myanmar's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) released a statement on 3 April, claiming two ARSA insurgents carrying IEDs and narcotics had been killed and their contraband had been seized. On 9 April, ARSA released a statement claiming they had killed five to seven members of Myanmar's Border Guard Police (BGP) four days prior, not far from the Kyi Kan Pyin headquarters. On 15 April, one BGP member was killed in a confrontation between ARSA and the BGP at Kha Maung Seik.
Reports circulated[when?] that ARSA had reformed in Maungdaw after several months of inactivity. On 2 May, the Myawady Daily reported that two Burmese police officers had been attacked by 41 ARSA insurgents near the Bangladesh–Myanmar border.
Two alleged ARSA insurgents died in a confrontation with Myanmar security forces at the Bangladeshi border on 4 June. According to military spokesman and Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun, the clash occurred during routine border security at Mee Dike village and began when around 30 ARSA insurgents opened fire.
Ideology and structure
ARSA leader Ataullah abu Ammar Jununi stated in a video posted online, "Our primary objective under ARSA is to liberate our people from dehumanising oppression perpetrated by all successive Burmese regimes". The group claims to be an ethno-nationalist insurgent group and has denied allegations that they are Islamist, claiming they are secular and "have no links to terrorist groups or foreign Islamists". However, ARSA follows many traditional Islamic practices such as having recruits swear an oath to the Quran, referring to their leader as an emir, and asking for fatwas from foreign Muslim clerics.
In contrast to other insurgent groups in Myanmar, ARSA is not organised like a paramilitary. While other groups have military ranks and uniforms, most members of ARSA have appeared in videos wearing civilian clothes. The group is also ill-equipped; it was reported that during their attacks in Maungdaw District on 25 August, most of ARSA's fighters were armed with machetes and bamboo sticks. The local authorities responded with automatic machine gunfire, heavily outmatching ARSA's weapons.
Analysts have compared the tactics used by ARSA to those used by insurgent groups fighting in southern Thailand, namely crossing the border from one country to another to launch small scale attacks, then retreating back across the border to a community that shares a similar ethnic and/or religious background.
Accusations of atrocities
The Myanmar government alleged in a statement that ARSA killed four Muslims, including a village head and a government informant, on 25 August 2017. The next day on 26 August, another Muslim village head and a Hindu child were allegedly killed when ARSA insurgents fired at a monastery. In addition, six Hindus were stated to have been killed when the insurgents attacked a Hindu family. The Office of Myanmar's State Counsellor also blamed ARSA for the killings of five Daingnets on 26 August and seven Mro people on 31 August.
The mass-graves of 28 Hindus were found by Myanmar's security forces on 24 September 2017 near the village of Ye Baw Kya, with 17 more bodies found on the next day. Three relatives of the deceased said that masked men marched 100 Hindus away from the village before slitting their throats and pushing them into a hole. The relatives recognised some of the attackers as Rohingya Muslims, who told their victims they should not be in possession of official identity cards, which were issued by the government to Hindus but not to Muslims. After the discovery of the bodies, the Myanmar government claimed the victims were killed by ARSA insurgents. An ARSA spokesman denied the allegation that it was behind the killings and accused Buddhist nationalists of spreading lies to divide Hindus and Muslims.
On 9 November, Myint Khyine, the secretary of the Immigration and Population Department, blamed the deaths of 18 village leaders in the past three months in Maungdaw and Buthidaung, on ARSA. The village leaders helped the department to issue national verification cards to Rohingya villagers.
On 22 May 2018, Amnesty International released a report claiming it had evidence that ARSA rounded up and killed as many as 99 Hindu civilians on 25 August 2017, the same day that ARSA launched a massive attack against Myanmar's security forces. The report alleged that ARSA insurgents armed with guns and swords were responsible for at least one reported massacre of Hindus in northern Rakhine State. Survivors claimed that in the village of Kha Maung Seik, ARSA insurgents killed the men, whilst the women were kidnapped and forced to convert to Islam. It was also alleged in the report that statements given by Hindus immediately after the massacre were false, and that they were threatened by ARSA into blaming Rakhine Buddhists for the killings.
ARSA periodically releases press statements online, in documents and videos posted to its Twitter account. Unlike other insurgent groups in Myanmar, most of ARSA's written statements are exclusively in English, rather than in the group's native tongue (in this case, Rohingya).
On 17 October 2016, ARSA (then under the name Harakah al-Yaqin) released a press statement online. In a roughly five-minute video, the group's leader, Ataullah abu Ammar Jununi, flanked by armed fighters reads from a sheet of paper:
Citizens of Arakan, citizens of Myanmar, and citizens of the world.
It is no longer a secret that the Rohingyas are the most persecuted ethnic minority on earth. Throughout the last six decades, we have been subjected to genocidal mass-killings, and all kinds of atrocities at the hands of successive tyrannical Burmese regimes.
Yet the world has chosen to ignore us! Then again, the "resourceful" world has apparently failed to save us!
We, the sons of Arakan soil, who are compelled by our dire situation to follow our own destiny through uprising, self-determination and self-defence, stand as an independent body which is free from all elements of terror in any nature, seek fundamental but legitimate rights and other justice for all Arakanese, including our fellow innocent Rohingyas and other civilians dying from the continuous military assaults.
We categorically state that our people have chosen to free themselves from their oppressors, from the tragic deaths in the Bay of Bengal, in the Thai jungles and at the hands of human traffickers. We have also resolved to defend our mothers, sisters, elderly, children and ourselves.
We shall not rest until all our desired goals are achieved with the genuine help of the civilised world.
Six other videos were released online by the group between 10 and 27 October 2016.
The group released a press statement on 29 March 2017 under a new name, the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA). The document included demands made to the Burmese government and a warning that if they were not met, there would be further attacks.
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In a statement posted on Twitter, Atta Ullah, who identifies himself as commander of the rebel group, the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, said the attack on Friday morning in Maungdaw had been staged in response to efforts by Myanmar’s security forces to drive the Rohingya, a Muslim minority in a Buddhist-majority country, from the area.
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