Rakhine, Rohingya militants: 'We are thousands and well-armed'
5,000 guerrillas among the ranks of the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (Arsa). Only the young Rohingya are subjected to training. Recruiting in villages started more than three years ago. Last August's actions planned for months. Residents of Muslim villages also took part in the violence. At least 150 jihadists found refuge in the 15 refugee camps at Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh.
Naypyitaw (AsiaNews / Rfa) - The Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (Arsa), an Islamic armed group responsible for triggering recent ethnic violence in the western state of Rakhine, boasts thousands of fighters and weapons taken from the security forces of Myanmar. This is according to BenarNews, an affiliate of Rfa, reporting claims from a militant involved in some of the lethal attacks of 25 August.
From a refugee camp in Cox's Bazaar (Bangladesh), the 28-year-old Nurul Islam (a cover name, ndr) claims that 5,000 guerrillas have taken part in what he calls "an organized uprising." Each ARSA company comprised anywhere between 500 and 1,000 Rohingya villagers, who were armed with batons and knives, along with a handful of trained cadres who had guns and hand grenades. The idea of this was to intimidate the forces, to fool them into believing that they were outnumbered, "the militant says.
The rebels were also armed with "hand guns, rifles and bombs", most of which were purchased from local bandits or the result of looting. Nurul Islam reports that not all Arsa guerrillas are trained to fight, and members work at "different levels." Only the young Rohingya who are physically and emotionally strong are subjected to training. The others are assigned to positions such as recruiting, monitoring the activities of Burmese troops, organizing weapons and funds for the group, and assisting the poor and the needy Rohingya. "We have no cutting edge weapons. Unlike many people think, we are not associated with any terrorist organization, "declares the militant.
More than three years ago, members of the Arsa, formerly called Harakah al-Yaqin (HaY) or "Movement of the Faith," started going from village to village in Rakhine, where the Rohingya population is concentrated. They invited local youths to join their fight against the Myanmar armed forces and Rakhine ethnic Buddhists, accused of collaborating with the military. "They burn down our houses, rape our mothers and sisters, grab our land. Because we are Muslim, they call us Bangladeshis and tell us that we don’t belong in Burma. They don’t let us practice our religion. They have destroyed mosques and madrassas … our very ethnicity, "says Nurul Islam.
He also took part in the Islamist attacks of October 9, 2016, which caused the death of nine policemen. Even then, the Burmese army responded with a tough counter-offensive. Nurul Islam reports that in the night between August 24 and 25, Arsa militants attacked 24 military outposts in a "planned" operation. The guerrilla unit was composed of 10 trained jihadists and 500 villagers of the Rohingya villages. They attacked a Burmese security station at Maungdaw, killing at least five policemen.
Hours later, Burmese leader Aung San Suu Kyi's office issued a statement that 59 militants and 12 Myanmar soldiers were killed in the violence. In the following days, Tatmadaw's reaction [the Myanmar army] caused the exodus to Bangladesh of more than 600,000 Rohingya. Among them, Nurul Islam reveals, there are at least 150 jihadists who have found shelter in the 15 refugee camps at Cox's Bazar, a border district hosting a total of about one million Rohingya who have escaped from Myanmar.
The Rapid Bangladesh Battalion (Rab), the Dhaka police elite anti-terrorism unit, denies the militant claims. "There is no organized Arsa presence here. Without evidence, we cannot accuse anyone of being a member. In my opinion, there is no member of the Arsa at Cox's Bazaar, Ruhul Amin, commander of the district Rab company states to BenarNews. Earlier this month, Bangladesh Interior Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal reported that during the recent bilateral talks in Naypyidaw, the Myanmar government had provided Bangladeshi officials with a list of about 500 suspected members of the Arsa hidden on the other side of the border.