Yangon (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The Government of Myanmar has declared the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) a terrorist organisation. The armed group carried out bloody attacks on 25 August against 30 military outposts.
The State Counsellor Office Information Committee also issued a Statement saying that the media should refer to ARSA as Bengali terrorists and not as insurgents.
Armed with sticks, knives and home-made bombs, ARSA militants attacked military outposts in the villages of Maungdaw, Buthidaung and Rathedaung in the western state of Rakhine.
The violent clashes left 12 members of the security and other government officials, including an immigration officer. About 104 militants also died.
ARSA claimed responsibility for the attack on its Twitter account, calling them "defensive actions" against the persecution of Rohingya Muslims by government forces.
"Burma has been ramping up military in Arakan state since last few weeks in order to derail the 'Kofi Annan Commission Report and Recommendations' by triggering an unrest in the state," ARSA said on its Twitter page. "Therefore, we have tried our best to avoid any potential conflict meanwhile."
The group accused the "military and security forces" deployed in two areas of carrying out "raids; committing killings, loot[ings] in many Rohingya villages across the townships; and molesting Rohingya women."
According to United Nations estimates, at least 800,000 Rohingya Muslims live in Myanmar. However, the government and most people in Myanmar do not consider them as one of the country’s 135 ethnic groups. Instead, they are seen as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and for this reason have been denied citizenship even though they have lived in the country for generations.
On 24 August, Kofi Annan, former United Nations secretary general and chairman of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State, released the latter’s final report.
Established a year ago, the Commission was tasked with investigating violence and discrimination against the Rohingya Muslim minority and proposing solutions to end ethnic-religious tensions.
In the report, the Commission advises the Government of Myanmar to achieve social progress by encouraging investment and providing basic services in Rakhine.
Key points include checking Rohingya's citizenship, issuing national registration cards, reducing tensions, and engaging in reconciliation through direct talks between communities.
The document also mentions the need for border security, bilateral cooperation with Bangladesh, and greater anti-drug action. Another point to note is the call for the closure of refugee camps.
The following day, Myanmar's de facto leader State Councillor Aung San Suu Kyi firmly condemned the attacks on security forces, saying that violence was the result of the report’s release.
“The government had been aware of the risk of the attacks to coincide with the release of the commission’s final report yesterday and had issued instruction to relevant Union ministers,” she said in the statement issued by her office.
“It is clear that today’s attacks are a calculated attempt to undermine the efforts of those seeking to build peace and harmony in Rakhine state,” she added. “We must not allow our work to be derailed by the violent actions of extremists.”
The latest clashes, the bloodiest in five years, have worsened the humanitarian crisis. The Myanmar government has evacuated more than 4,000 non-Muslim residents (mainly Buddhists and Hindus), whilst more than 2,000 Rohingya Muslims have crossed the border into Bangladesh.
Fearing a new Rohingya exodus, Bangladesh has refused entry to new refugees and warned those already on its territory not to help others cross the border.
On Sunday, Bangladesh police detained and deported about 90 miles Rohingya to Myanmar. On Saturday, it had intercepted 70.
Over the week-end, international media have reported the shooting by Myanmar soldiers of civilians, especially women and children, as they tried to cross the Naf River, a natural border between the two countries.
The latest acts of violence are likely to fuel even more ethnic tensions between the Buddhist majority and the Rohingya.
Since sectarian violence broke out in 2012, more than 140,000 people have fled the region.
According to the United Nations, more than 80,000 Rohingya have found refuge in Bangladesh since the crisis of last October. At that time, an armed group (presumed to be ARSA) had attacked some outposts. Some nine policemen were killed, provoking a harsh reaction by the Burmese army.
According to the UN, it is very likely that many crimes against humanity were committed during the security operations. However, the Myanmar government has repeatedly rejected such allegations.