The area’s Buddhist and Hindu tribal groups are one tenth of Muslims. Some 25,000 have been displaced and are now in camps set up by the army. Ongoing violence has undermined peaceful coexistence. Fear of possible Islamist infiltrations in the country is widespread. Mizzima News blames the Islamic State for the attacks against military outposts. This is part of an attempt to disrupt Aung San Suu Kyi's peace policy.
Yangon (AsiaNews) – Whilst the international community is putting pressures on the Government of Myanmar to end violence in Rakhine State, many Burmese and members of ethnic groups evacuated from northern villages complain of atrocities committed by armed Rohingya militants.
More than 400 people have died as a result of the fighting that broke out on 25 August, when militants of the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) attacked dozens of police and military posts. The attacks led to what the government calls a legitimate military campaign against “Bengali terrorists".
At the same time, the violence has sparked an exodus of residents. The state is home to about 750,000 Muslims originally from Bangladesh, and about 75,000 tribal Buddhists and Hindus. So far, about 125,000 Rohingya have sought refuge in neighbouring Bangladesh, whilst more than 25,000 non-Muslim residents have been evacuated with state assistance.
At a camp set up by government and army, evacuees accuse Rohingya of starting the crisis, and defend Burmese security forces. Aung Tun Hla is one of them. Speaking about what happened in his village during the first hours of clashes, he is quoted as saying: "Around 9am on 25 August 2017, more than 20,000 persons besieged our Taungbaza Village. At that time, we informed the Tatmadaw (Myanmar Armed Forces) about our situations [sic]. When the Tatmadaw evacuated us from the village, those persons attacked even the Tatmadaw. So, the Tatmadaw let us choose the way to go to safe place.”
“The Tatmadaw performed counter-attacks against them,” Aung Tun Hla says. “So, we arrived at the foot of the hill and saved [our] lives. [. . .] If there are Bengali terrorists, we [will] never live in our native villages. We cannot live there together with them similar [sic] to the past. Our ethnic people would like to live here separately. Those Bengalis are crafty. In the past, they raped our ethnic women. We had found they killed a few people [sic]. We would not let them live in the region.”
Phyu Phyu Hlaing, a woman from Buthidaung township, says more ore less the same. They "besieged our village from four directions. When hay [they] besieged our village, all of our villagers went to the monastery.”
Ngwe Hlaing is also from Buthidaung Township. "Buthidaung Bengali terrorists raped two girls of our village in 2008 and then killed them. Our villagers had bitter experience over those terrorists [sic]. On 25 August 2017, those Bengali terrorists attacked [. . .] At night, we heard information that those Bengali terrorists raided the police outpost in Phaungdawbyin Village. [. . .] So, we could not live here peacefully.”
"Our village is always posed [sic] threats by Bengalis," said Soe San Maung of Thinbawhla. "On the starting day of [the] crisis, they besieged our village in the morning. They threatened us not to live here [sic]. They committed same acts many times. In 1990, a family from Thayagon Village was killed. All six family members were killed. They totally killed the people as massacre acts [sic]. So, we do not live here together those Bengalis.”
Some analysts argue that Myanmar’s influential military is using tensions between Rohingya Muslims and other ethnic groups to assert their power. Yet, among locals there is fear and a strong feeling of possible Islamist infiltrations in the country.
Citing intelligence sources, Mizzima News, a news organisation founded by exiled Burmese journalists, reported that on 23 and 24 August, India and Bangladesh intercepted three phone calls between ARSA military chief Hafiz Tohar and some Islamic terrorists in Pakistan.
According to some sources, these calls played a key role in the armed group's offensive against Myanmar's security forces.
They indicate that ARSA and its supporters, the Islamic State and Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence, want to cause problems for Aung San Suu Kyi's government, which has pledged to establish an inter-ministerial committee to implement the recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Rakhine Commission, headed by Kofi Annan.
"The ARSA is determined to thwart Daw Suu Kyi's good intentions to implement the Kofi Annan report. They want to brutalise the discourse in Rakhine and help re-militarise the area so that the narrative of torture and extra-judicial killings help them boost the level of jihad and find recruits," a top Bangladesh intelligence official told Mizzima News.