September 13, 2017, 1:01 am, By Tahsina Tabassum Shrabanti
If only “restraint” were part of the Myanmar military lexicon, the violence faced by innocent Rohingya Muslims would be nowhere near the carnage seen each time militant attacks flare up in the troubled Rakhine region, observers say.
The current crisis – the second major outbreak of violence in the northwestern province in the last year – was sparked after armed Rohingya insurgents took part in an August offensive targeting dozens of police posts and an army base in the northwestern region. Some 400 people have since been killed, and an estimated 150,000 have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh as a result of what is seen as a scorched earth counteroffensive by the military, known locally as the Tatmadaw.
Anthony Davis, a Bangkok-based security analyst with the defence publisher Jane’s, said the scale of the carnage in Rakhine was a result of several factors. These included an intrinsic ethnic bias in the Burman-Buddhist dominated Tatmadaw rank and file, their preference for targeting the insurgents’ civilian support base, and the fact that many security force personnel do not speak the local language. Burman-Buddhists make up some 70 per cent of Myanmar’s population of 51 million people.
In Rakhine, Myanmar’s poorest region, there are around 1.1 million Rohingya Muslims. While they are indigenous to the region, the minority group is technically stateless as the government considers them illegal immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh.
The main insurgent group, the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, say their aim is to “defend, salvage and protect” the Rohingya from state repression. The group is said to be poorly armed, with the August attacks carried out with small arms, knives, sticks and swords.
In contrast, Davis said the Burman-dominated Tatmadaw’s killer instincts in the region, honed over decades of operations in border areas in the Kachin and Shan states, “are on steroids”.
“The population is not only Muslim – a red rag to a Burman Buddhist bull – but it’s also not even officially recognised as an ethnic minority,” said Davis, who specialises in insurgencies and terrorism in South and Southeast Asia.
Ref: South China Morning Post, 9 Sep 2017