Rohingya insurgency in Western Myanmar
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|Rohingya insurgency in Western Myanmar|
|Part of the Internal conflict in Myanmar|
Rohingya population in Rakhine State (Arakan)
Rohingya Solidarity Organisation (disputed) Supported by:
|Commanders and leaders|
|Thein Sein (2011–16)||
|Rohingya National Army|
33 infantry battalions
|Casualties and losses|
9 border officers and 4 soldiers killed
fled to Bangladesh, Malaysia, and Thailand
The Rohingya insurgency in Western Myanmar is an ongoing minor insurgency in northern Rakhine State (also known as Arakan), Myanmar (Burma), waged by insurgents belonging to the Rohingya ethnic minority. Most clashes have occurred in the Maungdaw District, which borders Bangladesh.
From 1947 to 1961, local mujahideen fought government forces in an attempt to have the mostly Rohingya populated Mayu peninsula in northern Rakhine State secede from Myanmar, and have it be annexed by East Pakistan (present-day Bangladesh). During the late 1950s and early 1960s, the mujahideen lost most of its momentum and support, resulting in most insurgents surrendering to government forces.
The existence of a modern Rohingya insurgency in northern Rakhine State after 2001 has been disputed by several regional security experts. In 2013, Shwe Maung, the then MP of the Rohingya-majority Maungdaw Township, rejected claims that new Islamist insurgent groups had begun operating in northern Rakhine State and along the Bangladeshi border, saying, "There is not a square meter without Nasaka [border guard] forces in northern Rakhine."
In October 2016, clashes erupted on the Myanmar-Bangladesh border, with Rohingya insurgents and foreign Islamists suspected of being the perpetrators.
- 1 Mujahideen separatist movements (1947–1970s)
- 2 Rohingya Islamist Movements (1972–present)
- 3 Commentary on the conflict
- 4 See also
- 5 References
- 6 Further reading
Mujahideen separatist movements (1947–1970s)
Mujahideen insurgency (1947–1961)
In May 1946, Muslim leaders from Rakhine State (Arakan) met with Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, and asked for the formal annexation of two townships in the Mayu region, Buthidaung and Maungdaw, by East Pakistan (present-day Bangladesh). Two months later, the North Arakan Muslim League was founded in Akyab (present-day Sittwe, capital of Rakhine State), which also asked that the region be annexed.
The newly formed government of the Union of Burma (Myanmar) however, refused to grant autonomy or independence to a separate Muslim state, and refused to concede the area to East Pakistan. Local mujahideen fighters subsequently declared jihad on Myanmar, and began targeting local authorities and soldiers stationed in the area. The newly formed mujahideen movement was led by Abdul Kassem.
Following the initial attacks, mujahideen forces began gaining control over large areas in northern Rakhine State, and drove out local native Rakhine people from their villages. Some of the displaced Rakhines moved to neighbouring Bangladesh, where presently, they are a small community. By June 1949, the Burmese government's control over the region was reduced to the city of Akyab (Sittwe), while the mujahideen gained possession of nearly all of northern Rakhine State. The government had claimed that the mujahideen encouraged the illegal immigration of thousands of Bengali people from East Pakistan into Rakhine State during their rule of the area, a claim that has been highly disputed over the decades, as it also brings into question the legitimacy of the Rohingya people in Myanmar.
Military operations against the Mujahideen
Martial law was declared in the region in November 1948, as the insurgency greatly intensified, with the mujahideen surrounding the remaining Burmese controlled towns and villages. The 5th Battalion of the Burma Rifles and the 2nd Chin Battalion were immediately sent to the surrounded area, and after several weeks of combat, the mujahideen were successfully driven back into the jungles of Northern Rakhine State.
Afterwards, the Tatmadaw (Myanmar Armed Forces) launched major military operations against the remaining mujahideen fighters in Northern Rakhine State, between 1950 and 1954. The first military operation was launched in March 1950, followed by a second named the Mayu Operation in October 1952. Several mujahideen leaders agreed to disarm and surrender to government forces following the successful operations.
In the latter half of 1954, mujahideen insurgents again began to carry out attacks on local authorities and military units stationed around Maungdaw, Buthidaung and Rathedaung. In protest, hundreds of Rakhine Buddhist monks began hunger strikes in Rangoon (present-day Yangon). As a result of this pressure, the government launched Operation Monsoon in October 1954. The main strongholds of the mujahideen were captured, and several of their leaders were killed. The operation successfully reduced the mujahideen's influence in the region, and greatly lowered their local support. In 1957, 150 mujahideen fighters, led by Shore Maluk and Zurah, surrendered to government forces. On 7 November 1957, 214 additional mujahideen fighters under the leadership of al-Rashid disarmed and surrendered to government forces.
Decline and fall of the Mujahideen
On 4 July 1961, 290 mujahideen fighters in the southern region of Maungdaw surrendered their arms in front of Brigadier-General Aung Gyi, the then Deputy Commander-in-Chief of the Myanmar Army. In the beginning of the 1960s, the mujahideen began to lose momentum when the governments of Myanmar and Pakistan began negotiating on how to deal with the insurgents at their border. On 15 November 1961, the few remaining mujahideen fighters surrendered to Aung Gyi in the eastern region of Buthidaung.
A few dozen insurgents remained under the command of Ahmad Zafar, another group of 40 insurgents were led by Abdul Latif, and a mujahideen faction of 80 insurgents were led by Annul Jauli. All these groups lost momentum and a unifying ideology, and ended up becoming rice smugglers around the end of the 1960s.
Rohingya Islamist Movements (1972–present)
Radical Movements (1972–1988)
On 15 July 1972, the mujahideen leader Ahmad Zafar founded the Rohingya Liberation Party (RLP), after mobilising various mujahideen factions under his command. Zafar appointed himself Chairman of the party, Abdul Latif as Vice Chairman and Minister of Military Affairs, and Muhammad Jafar Habib as the Secretary General, a graduate from Rangoon University. Their strength increased from 200 fighters in the beginning to 500 by 1974. The RLP was largely based in the jungles of Buthidaung, and were armed with weapons smuggled from Bangladesh. After a massive military operation by the Tatmadaw (Myanmar Armed Forces) in July 1974, Zafar and most of his men fled across the border into Bangladesh.
In 1974, Muhammad Jafar Habib, the former Secretary of the RLP, founded the Rohingya Patriotic Front (RPF), after the failure and dissolution of the RLP. The RPF had around 70 fighters, and had Habib as self-appointed Chairman, Nurul Islam, a Yangon-educated lawyer, as Vice-Chairman, and Muhammad Yunus, a medical doctor, as Secretary General.
In March 1978, government forces launched a military operation named Operation King Dragon in northern Rakhine State, with the focus of expelling Rohingya insurgents in the area. As the operation extended farther into Rakhine State, hundreds of thousands of Rohingyas crossed the border, resulting in a large number of them seeking refuge around the border with Bangladesh.
In the early 1980s, more radical elements broke away from the Rohingya Patriotic Front, and formed the Rohingya Solidarity Organisation (RSO). It was led by Muhammad Yunus, the former Secretary General 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, the 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 alleged ties to al-Qaeda (1988–2011)
In the early 1990s, the military camps of the Rohingya Solidarity Organisation (RSO) were located in the Cox's Bazaar district in southern Bangladesh. RSO possessed a significant arsenal of light machine-guns, AK-47 assault rifles, RPG-2 rocket launchers, claymore mines and explosives, according to a field report conducted by correspondent Bertil Lintner in 1991. The Arakan Rohingya Islamic Front (ARIF) was mostly armed with British manufactured 9mm Sterling L2A3 sub-machine guns, M-16 assault rifles and point-303 rifles. It has been alleged that Taliban instructors from Afghanistan were seen in some RSO camps along the Bangladesh-Myanmar border, while nearly 100 RSO insurgents reported to be undergoing training with the terrorist organisation Hizbul Mujahideen.
One of the several dozen videotapes obtained by CNN from Al-Qaeda's archives in Afghanistan in August 2002 showed that "Muslim brothers from Burma" (Myanmar) received training in Afghanistan. Some video tapes were allegedly shot in RSO camps in Bangladesh in the 1990s. According to intelligence sources in Asia, Rohingya recruits in the RSO were paid a 30,000 Bangladeshi taka ($525 USD) enlistment reward, and a salary of 10,000 taka ($175) per month. Families of fighters who were killed in action were offered 100,000 taka ($1,750) in compensation, a promise which lured many young Rohingya men, who were mostly very poor, to travel to Pakistan, where they would train and then perform suicide attacks in Afghanistan.
The expansion of the RSO in the late 1980s and early 1990s resulted in the government of Myanmar launching a massive counter-offensive to expel RSO insurgents along the Bangladesh-Myanmar border. In December 1991, Tatmadaw soldiers crossed the border and accidentally attacked a Bangladeshi military outpost, an incident which developed into a major strain in Bangladesh-Myanmar relations. By April 1992, more than 250,000 Rohingya civilians had been forced out of northern Rakhine State as a result of the increased military operations in the area.
During the military operations, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia and commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces of Saudi Arabia visited the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka, and suggested military action by Bangladesh against Myanmar, similar to Operation Desert Storm in Iraq.
In April 1994, around 120 members of the RSO entered Maungdaw Township in Myanmar by crossing the Naf River which marks the border between Bangladesh and Myanmar. On 28 April 1994, nine out of twelve timed bombs planted in different areas in Maungdaw by RSO insurgents exploded, damaging a fire engine and a few buildings, and seriously wounding four civilians.
On 28 October 1998, the Rohingya Solidarity Organisation (RSO) and the Arakan Rohingya Islamic Front (ARIF), led by Nurul Islam, merged and founded the Rohingya National Army (RNA), with the Arakan Rohingya National Organisation (ARNO) organising Rohingya insurgents of different factions into a single army.
According to US Embassy Cables revealed by Wikileaks, the alleged meeting of ARNO members and Al-Qaeda representatives was reported. The cable also commented that the Tatmadaw allegedly provided the report with the "hope of bolstering relations with the United States, by getting credit for cooperation on the CT front in the War on Terror." 
|“||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 Taliban insurgents 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 Organisation'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 reorganisation 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 Organisation (RSO) had agreed to reorganize as integrated members of ARNO. However, Mullah Dil-Mar from RSO did not agree with this re-organisation and resigned with his entourage of insurgents.
ARNO has strongly denied these allegations through several press releases, including a joint press release issued with the National United Party of Arakan, which is largely made up of Buddhist Rakhine members.
|“||"As far as the Arakan Rohingya National Organisation (ARNO) is concerned, we strongly reject any direct or indirect link with any terrorist organisation. ARNO condemns the terrorist attacks in the United States on 11 September 2001, and believes that terrorism is an evil on earth that knows no homeland, nationality, religion, or race and so everybody must disown it and condemn it. At the same time, the importance of making distinction between terrorism or wanton killing of innocent people and freedom struggle or the right to fight against injustice must not be overlooked." ||”|
In March 2011, between 80 and 100 Rohingya men in Maungdaw Township were arrested by Myanmar border police, and were accused 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 jungle of northern Maungdaw on the Bangladeshi border in February 2011. Among the suspected people allegedly linked to the Taliban, 19 people were brought before court in March and April 2011. 12 of the 19 suspects in associating with the Taliban and other Islamic militant groups were sentenced to various jail terms on 6 September 2011.
2016 border attacks
On 9 October 2016, an estimated 300 unidentified insurgents attacked three Burmese border posts along Myanmar's border with Bangladesh. According to government officials in the border town of Maungdaw, the attackers looted several dozen firearms and ammunition from the border posts, and brandished knives and homemade slingshots that fired metal bolts. The attacks left nine border officers and "several insurgents" dead. On 11 October 2016, four Tatmadaw soldiers were killed on the third day of fighting. Though it is not known who the perpetrators were, government officials in Rakhine State have blamed the Rohingya Solidarity Organisation (RSO), an insurgent group that was mainly active in the 1980s and 1990s, whilst others pointed to terrorist groups from Bangladesh.
Commentary on the conflict
Around 800,000 Rohingyas live in Myanmar, around 80% of whom live in Rakhine State. Nearly all of them have been denied citizenship by the government, as the government does not recognise the Rohingya people as a distinct ethnic group originating from Myanmar, but rather as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. The United Nations consider the Rohingya people one of the world's most persecuted minorities.
During the Bangladesh Liberation War and after its independence in 1971, there was a period of increased illegal immigration into Arakan due to political turmoil in Bangladesh. There is good evidence to indicate that Muslim people from Arakan have been migrating to today`s Bangladesh since 1940. In 1974, Arakan State was formed according to the new constitution of Burma. In the same year, the "Emergency Immigration Act" was endorsed, and strategies to combat illegal immigration were carried out by the Burmese government. By 1975, several thousand Muslims had fled to Bangladesh to escape the mounting government pressure.
It is difficult to know if they were recent immigrants from Bangladesh, or ethnic Muslims who have lived in Arakan prior to 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 Burmese Army Operation created unrest in Arakan; a mass exodus of Muslims (around 252,000 refugees) to Bangladesh occurred as a result. Between August 1978 and December 1979, repatriation was led by the UNHCR with most resettled in western Burma. On 15 October 1982, Burmese Citizenship Law was introduced; with the exception of the Kaman Muslims, most of the Muslims in Burma were denied an ethnic minority classification, and thus were denied Burmese citizenship.
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. In 1991-92, a few years of the introduction of military rule, the forced relocation of Muslims and creation of new Buddhist settlements in Buthidaung and Maungdaw townships by SLORC provoke another mass exodus of Rohingya Muslims(around 270,000) to Bangladesh. 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 criticised 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".
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 Organisation (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 radicalised Rohingyas in the late 1970s 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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