Rohingya insurgency in Western Myanmar

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Rohingya insurgency in Western Myanmar
Part of the Internal conflict in Myanmar
Rakhine02 rohingya people.png
Rohingya population in Rakhine (Arakan) State
Date 1947 – present
Location Rakhine State (Arakan State);
Myanmar-Bangladesh border (historically)
Status Ongoing

Myanmar Republic of the Union of Myanmar

Rohingya National Council

Itihadul Mujahideen of Arakan
Former combatants:
Rohingya Liberation Party (RLP)
Rohingya Patriotic Front (RPF)
Supported by:
al-Qaeda [1]

Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan [2]
Commanders and leaders

Brigadier Aung Gyi
General Tin Oo
Maj-Gen. Mya Thin
Maj-Gen. Win Myint

Maj-Gen. Tun Nay Lin

Muhammad Jafar Habib
Muhammad Yunus
Nurul Islam
Omra Meah

Abdul Kassem
1,100 (in 1947-1950)[3]

2,000-5,000 (in 1947-1950)[3]

2,000 (in 1952) [3]
Casualties and losses
Unknown Unknown

The Rohingya insurgency in Western Myanmar is an ongoing armed conflict between the government of Myanmar and insurgents of the Rohingya ethnic minority in Rakhine State (formerly known as Arakan State), Myanmar (Burma).

From 1947 to 1961, local Mujahideen insurgents fought government forces in an attempt to separate the mostly Rohingya populated Mayu region from Myanmar, and have it annexed by the newly formed East Pakistan (present-day Bangladesh).[4] The government has claimed that most Mujahideen fighters in Myanmar were involved in the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971, and several crossed the border and were originally from Bangladesh.

Around 800,000 Muslim Rohingyas live in Myanmar, with around 80% living in Rakhine State. Nearly all of them have been denied citizenship by the government, whom cite the fact that they or their families did not originate from Myanmar.[5] The United Nations consider the Rohingya one of the world's most persecuted minorities.[5]

Mujahideen separatist movements (1947-70)[edit]

Mujahideen insurgency in Arakan (1947-1961)[edit]

The insurgency first began with the formation of the political party Jami-a-tul Ulema-e Islam, which received logistical support from Ulnar Mohammad Muzahid Khan and Molnar Ibrahim. In May 1946, some Muslim leaders from Rakhine State met with Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, and asked for the immediate annexation of the Mayu Region (comprising of two townships, Buthidaung and Maungdaw), an area along Myanmar's border with East Pakistan. 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.[6]

The government however, refused to grant a separate Muslim state in the Mayu Region, and also refused to concede the area to East Pakistan. Local Mujahideen fighters subsequently declared jihad on Myanmar,[7] and began targeting local authorities and soldiers stationed in the area. the movement was led by Abdul Kassem.[8]

Within a few years, the Mujahideen made rapid gains and banished the local Arakanese villagers. The Arakanese population of the Mayu Region were subsequently forced out of their homes; some fled across the border into East Pakistan. By June 1949, the government's control over the region was reduced to the city of Akyab (Sittwe), while the Mujahideen was in possession of nearly all of northern Rakhine State. The government accused the Mujahideen of encouraging the illegal immigration of thousands of Bengali people from East Pakistan into Rakhine State, an accusation that has been highly disputed over the decades.[9]

Military operations against the Mujahideen[edit]

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.

A Mujahideen leader disarms and surrenders to Brigadier General Aung Gyi, as part of the government's peace process in Buthidaung, Rakhine State (4 July 1961)

The Tatmadaw (armed forces) afterwards launched major military operations against the remaining Mujahideen fighters in Northern Rakhine State, between 1950 and 1954.[10] The first operation was launched in March 1950, the second was nicknamed the "Mayu Operation", and was launched in October 1952. Several Mujahideen leaders agreed to disarm and surrender to government forces after the operations.[6]

In the latter half of 1954, Mujahideen insurgents again began to carry out attacks on local authorities and military stationed around Maungdaw, Buthidaung and Rathedaung. In protest, hundreds of Arakanese Buddhist monks began hunger strikes in Rangoon (present-day Yangon)[9] As a result of this pressure, the government launched "Operation Monsoon" in October 1954.[6] 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.[3] 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.[11]

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.[12] 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.[9]

Decline and fall of the Mujahideen (1962-1970)[edit]

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.[11]

Rohingya Islamist Movement (1971-present)[edit]

Radicalist Movements (1971-1988)[edit]

During Bangladesh's Liberation War in 1971, Rohingyas who resided in the borderline got the opportunity to collect weapons from the war. On 15 July 1972, the Mujahid rebel leader Zaffar founded the Rohingya Liberation Party (RLP) after mobilising 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 neighbouring Bangladesh and the role of Zaffar disappeared.[11]

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.[11][13] RPF's Chairman was Muhammad Jafar Habib, Vice-Chairman was Nurul Islam, a Rangoon-educated lawyer, and CEO was Muhammad Yunus, a medical doctor.[11]

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.[13][14][15]

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.[13][15]

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.[13]

Military Expansions and connections with Taliban and Al-Qaeda (1988-2011)[edit]

Rohingya militants

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.[16] 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.[16] 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.[13][15]

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.[15] These videos which show the linkage between Al-Qaeda and Rohingya insurgents were shot in the 1990s.[13][15][17] 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).Which is quite substantial amount for those in poor region . 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.[13][15]

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.[13] 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.[13][18]

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.[19]

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 organise all the different Rohingya insurgents into one group.[20]

According to US Embassy Cables revealed by Wikileaks, the alleged meeting of ARNO members and Al-Qaeda representatives is reported as follows:[20]

As Wikileaks noted, there was also connection between Talibans and ARNO Rohingya militants:[20]

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.[21][22] 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.[21] Among the suspected people allegedly linked to Talibans, 19 people were brought before the court in March and April 2011.[23] 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.[24]

Declaration of the "Islamic Republic of Rahmanland" (2012)[edit]

The flag of the Rohingja Islamic Republic of Rahmanland.

In August 2012, Rohingja emigres in exile declared the creation of the "Islamic Republic of Rahmanland", located in the north of Rakhine State.[25] It's would-be capital is Sittwe, to be renamed "Syahida".[25] The 2012 ethnic composition within the hypothetical Rahmanland is 60% Rohingya, 30% Rakhine, and 10% Chin.[25]

Commentary upon the Rohingya insurgency[edit]

Demographic factors[edit]

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.[3]

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.[13][15][26] 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.[27]

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.[28]

Academic discussion of the Mujahideen insurgency[edit]

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:[9]

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.[29] Her argument was supported by Syed Serajul Islam. Syed writes:[30]

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".[31]

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.[32]

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.[33] 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 .[34] Such violence happened because the British armed Muslim groups in northern Arakan to create a buffer zone from the Japanese invasion when they retreated [35] and Muslims were promised by the British that if they supported the Allies they would be given their own "national area".[36]

False sources have been used to fabricate history. When a new Islamic country of Pakistan was about to be formed comprising East Bengal, 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 erstwhile Burma so as to combine that area with East Pakistan. The territory belonged to Bengal historically. 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 neighbouring area of the Rohingya Muslim settlements in western Burma.

Perceptions of the conflict[edit]

Burmese Military Regime's policy on Rohingyas as seen by the Amnesty International:[37]

The interpretation of the Burmese junta's attitude by the Rohingyas:[38]

Jane's World Insurgency and Terrorism subscription service's remark on the causes of Rohingya militant movements:[39]

"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.[30]

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 (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.[40]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Arakan Rohingya National Organization Contacts With Al Qaeda And With Burmese Insurgent Groups On The Thai Border". 
  2. ^ "Pak Taliban jihadi force of Rohingya Muslims, Bangladeshi, Indonesian nationals training in Burma". 
  3. ^ a b c d e Yegar, Moshe (2002). "Between integration and secession: The Muslim communities of the Southern Philippines, Southern Thailand, and Western Burma/Myanmar". Lanham (Lexington Books). p. 37,38,44. ISBN 0739103563. Retrieved 21 October 2012. 
  4. ^ Yegar, Moshe (1972). Muslims of Burma. Wiesbaden: Verlag Otto Harrassowitz. p. 96. 
  5. ^ a b "The Rohingya: A humanitarian crisis". Al Jazeera. Retrieved 23 January 2014. 
  6. ^ a b c Thit Maung, Yebaw (1989). Civil Insurgency in Burma. Yangon: Ministry of Information. p. 30. 
  7. ^ Aye Chan (2–3 June 2011). "On the Mujahid Rebellion in Arakan" read in the International Conference of Southeast Asian Studies at Pusan University of Foreign Studies, Republic of Korea. 
  8. ^ Thit Maung, Yebaw (1989). Civil Insurgency in Burma. Yangon: Ministry of Information. p. 28. 
  9. ^ a b c d Yegar, Moshe (1972). Muslims of Burma. pp. 98–101. 
  10. ^ Yegar, Moshe (2002). "Between integration and secession: The Muslim communities of the Southern Philippines, Southern Thailand, and Western Burma/Myanmar". Lanham (Lexington Books). pp. 44–45. ISBN 0739103563. Retrieved 21 October 2012. 
  11. ^ a b c d e Pho Kan Kaung (May 1992). The Danger of Rohingya. Myet Khin Thit Magazine No. 25. pp. 87–103. 
  12. ^ Khit Yay Tatmaw Journal. Yangon: Burma Army. 18 July 1961. p. 5. 
  13. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "Bangladesh Extremist Islamist Consolidation". by Bertil Lintner. Retrieved 21 October 2012. 
  14. ^ Lintner, Bertil (1999). Burma in Revolt: Opium and Insurgency Since 1948,. Chiang Mai: Silkworm Books. pp. 317–8. 
  15. ^ a b c d e f g "Bangladesh: Breeding ground for Muslim terror". by Bertil Lintner. Retrieved 21 October 2012. 
  16. ^ a b Lintner, Bertil (19 October 1991). Tension Mounts in Arakan State,. This news-story was based on interview with Rohingyas and others in the Cox’s Bazaar area and at the Rohingya military camps in 1991: Jane’s Defence Weekly. 
  17. ^ "Rohingyas trained in different Al-Qaeda and Taliban camps in Afghanistan". By William Gomes. Retrieved 22 October 2012. 
  18. ^ Selth, Andrew (Nov–Dec 2003). Burma and International Terrorism,. Australian Quarterly, vol. 75, no. 6,. pp. 23–28. 
  19. ^ "Rohingya Terrorists Plant Bombs, Burn Houses in Maungdaw". Retrieved 22 October 2012. 
  21. ^ a b "Nearly 80 Suspected Taliban Members Arrested in Burma". Narinjara News. Retrieved 22 October 2012. [dead link]
  22. ^ "Muslims Arrested in Arakan State Accused of Taliban Ties". Irrawaddy News. Retrieved 22 October 2012. 
  23. ^ "19 Alleged Members of Taliban Group Brought to Trial". Narinjara News. Retrieved 22 October 2012. [dead link]
  24. ^ "Twelve Suspected Taliban Sentenced to Jail". Narinjara News. Retrieved 22 October 2012. [dead link]
  25. ^ a b c "New Sovereign State in ASEAN ” Islamic Republic of Rahmanland” a Independent State of Rohingya People".
  26. ^ Lintner, Bertil (1972). Burma in Revolt: Opium and Insurgency Since 1948. Chiang Mai: Silkworm Books. pp. 317–8. 
  27. ^ "Burmese Citizenship Law". Retrieved 22 October 2012. 
  28. ^ "Rohingyas and the Right to have Rights". Archived from the original on 14 August 2012. Retrieved 22 October 2012. [dead link]
  29. ^ Lall, Marie (23 November 2009). Ethnic Conflict and the 2010 Elections in Burma[dead link]. Chatham House.
  30. ^ a b Syed, Serajul Islam (2007). "State Terrorism in Arakan" in A Handbook of Terrorism and Insurgency in Southeast Asia (edited by: Andrew Tan). Cheltenham Glos, UK: Edward Elgar Publishing Ltd. p. 328. ISBN 9781845425432. Retrieved 6 November 2012. 
  31. ^ "Book Review: Muslims of Burma by Moshe Yegar". Good Reads. Retrieved 6 November 2012. 
  32. ^ Burmese Encyclopedia. Yangon: Burma Translation Society. 1963. p. 167. 
  33. ^ Aye Chan (2005). "The Development of a Muslim Enclave in Arakan (Rakhine) State of Burma (Myanmar)" (PDF). SOAS. Retrieved 1 November 2011. 
  34. ^ Kyaw Zan Tha, MA (July 2008). "Background of Rohingya Problem". p. 1. 
  35. ^ Field-Marshal Viscount William Slim (2009). Defeat Into Victory: Battling Japan in Burma and India, 1942-1945. London: Pan. ISBN 0330509977. 
  36. ^ Howard Adelman (2008). Protracted displacement in Asia: no place to call home. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd. p. 86. ISBN 0754672387. Retrieved 12 April 2011. 
  37. ^ "Myanmar - The Rohingya Minority: Fundamental Rights Denied". Archived from the original on 2 August 2012. Retrieved 22 October 2012. [dead link]
  38. ^ "Arakan Rohingya National Organization (ARNO)". Archived from the original on 30 July 2012. Retrieved 22 October 2012. 
  39. ^ "Rohingya Solidarity Organisation (RSO) (Bangladesh), GROUPS - ASIA - ACTIVE". Archived from the original on 22 January 2012. Retrieved 22 October 2012. 
  40. ^ "Facts on Human Rights Violation in Burma". Archived from the original on 13 January 2012. Retrieved 22 October 2012. 

Further reading[edit]