Tuesday, 23 April 2013
Myanmar's Dilemma : The Muslim Immigrants!!
Dr. Daya Hewapathirane
The Muslim community associated with Myanmar or former Burma, known as Rohingya Muslims are not indigenous to Myanmar.
They are a relatively recent migrant community of Myanmar. Most of these Muslims are illicit immigrants who migrated from Muslim neighborhood regions of Bengal India during the British colonial period and later from East Pakistan or the present Bangladesh.
The Myanmar government s of the past and present do not consider Rohingya Muslims as legitimate citizens of Myanmar. The people of Myanmar consider the Rohingya people as illegal immigrants. Myanmar’s Muslims account for an estimated 04% of the total Myanmar population of about 60 million.
In 2012, there were about 800,000 Rohingya Muslims living in Rohang, the western state of Myanmar known officially as Rakhine or Arakan.
THE INDIGENOUS PEOPLE OF BURMA (MYANMAR)
The indigenous people of Myanmar are ethno-linguistically Sino-Tibetan and are predominantly Buddhists as opposed to the Rohingya Muslims who are ethno-linguistically related to the Indo-Aryan Bengali people of India and Bangladesh and their religion is Islam. The language spoken by the Rohingya Muslims is different from that of the indigenous people of Myanmar. It is derived from a Indo-Aryan sub-branch of the greater Indo-European language family and is closely related to the Chittagonian language spoken in the southernmost part of the present Bangladesh bordering Myanmar. Therefore, culturally the Rohingya Muslims are quite different to the indigenous people of Myanmar.
ROHANG AND THE RAKKHITA BUDDHIST COMMUNITY
It was mostly during the British colonial period that these Muslim people crossed the borders and settled in border regions of Burma, concentrating largely in Rohang which was also known as Rakhine or Arakan, located in the immediate neighborhood of Bengal. Their numbers increased substantially during the British colonial period, and thereafter. Rakhine State consists of a population of about 3,8 million, with the indigenous Rakhine people forming the overwhelming majority in the State, who live mainly in the lowland valleys. Most of the indigenous people living in Rakhine State adhere to Theravada Buddhism. In spite of the government rule limiting Muslims to two children per family, the Muslim population in Myanmar shows an increasing trend.
According to historians of Myanmar, the name ‘Rohingya’ is of recent origin and appears to have been created in the1950’s, by the descendants of the Muslim Bengali people who settled down in the Rohang or Arakan region of Myanmar. The name Rohingya has not been used or recognized in the Burma population census conducted by the British in the year 1824. It is also noteworthy that the name Rohingya is not found in any historical source in any language before the 1950’s.
Rohang is an important region of Myanmar inhabited from ancient times by the Rakkhita, Rakkha or Rakhaing people, who belong to the indigenous Buddhist community of Burma. From historic times, this was a highly respected Burmese community, well known for the honourable life they led. They were well known for their contribution to the development and preservation of the national cultural heritage and Buddhist spiritual values. These Rakkhita people had their own language and their livelihood was strongly based on Buddhist principles. The name of the state Rakhine is derived from the Pali word Rakkhita or Rakkhapura which means “the land of the Rakhasa” or Rakkha or Rakhaing.
There were striking differences in the customs, traditions and livelihood patterns of the two communities – the indigenous Burmese Buddhists of the Arakan region, especially the Rakkhita community and the Muslim immigrants from Bengal. These cultural incompatibilities and differences resulted in open conflicts between the two communities, which were well evident from about the mid 20th century. Soon violence broke out in the Arakan region and the Muslim Rohingyas became a serious threat to the people of Myanmar. Occasional isolated violence involving Myanmar’s majority Buddhist and minority Muslim communities has occurred for decades, even under the authoritarian military governments that ruled the country from 1962 to 2011.
BRITISH RESPONSIBLE FOR AGGRAVATION OF THE PROBLEM
According to Aye Chan, a historian at the Kanda University, communal violence between the Arakanese or the indigenous Myanmar (Burmese) Buddhists and the Rohingya Muslims began during World War -II in 1942. The British were primarily responsible for the aggravation of disharmony between the Rohingya Muslims and the indigenous people of Myanmar.
During the World War, when the British were retreating, they took action to arm Muslim groups in Northern Arakan in order to create a buffer zone against the Japanese invasion. Furthermore, the British promised the Muslims living in Burma (Myanmar) at this time, that if they supported the British during the war, the Muslims will be given their own “national area” within Burma.
Once acquiring arms, the Muslim Rohingyas became a serious threat to the people of Myanmar. They soon began a spree of violence against the Buddhists of the Arakan region. They began destroying Buddhist villages in Arakan, using the firearms given to them by the British. In 1942, a major armed confrontation occurred between the Rohingya Muslims and indigenous Arakanese people which led to many casualties on both sides. Rohingya Muslims massacred about 20,000 Arakanese in Buthidaung and Maungdaw townships. In retaliation, about 5,000 Muslims in Minbya and Mrauk-U Townships were killed by the Arakanese.
In the mid 20th century, Rohingya Muslims living in Arakan organized into several militant groups. They formed an aggressive movement known as the Mujahideen movement which was active during the 1947 to 1961 period. There were several Mujahideen uprisings in Arakan. The aim behind the riots of the Rohingya militant groups was to separate the northern part of Arakan, or the Muslim populated Mayu frontier region and create an independent Muslim state for the Rohingya Muslims and annex it to the newly-formed Muslim East Pakistan as an exclusively Muslim country.
In 1947, when a new Islamic country of Pakistan was about to be formed, Rohingya Muslims who had already possessed arms from the British, wanted to obtain a “national area” for them within Burma, in accordance to the assurance given to them by the British. They formed the North Arakan Muslim League and met Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, and requested that Mayu region of Myanmar be annexed to East Pakistan which was about to be formed. Jinnah however, was not in favour of such a move. This did not stop the Rohingya Muslims in their agitation for separation from Myanmar. During the 1960’s and early 1970’s, there were several uprisings which were popularly known as Arakan State Riots. A widespread armed insurgency started with the formation of a Muslim political party called Jami-a-tul Ulema-e Islam, demanding separation.
The Burmese central government refused to grant a separate Muslim state in the Mayu region and the Muslim militants of Northern Arakan declared jihad on Burma. The Mujahid militants began their insurgent activities in the Buthidaung and Maungdaw townships within the Mayu region that lies on Burma-East Pakistan border, led by a long-term Muslim criminal named Abdul Kassem who was a leader of the Mujahid movement. There was widespread violence in the Arakanese villagers and the Buddhist Arakanese inhabitants of Buthidaung and Maungdaw were forced to leave their homes. By June 1949, the Mujahid rebels were in possession of all of northern Arakan. In the meantime, the Mujahid extremists encouraged and supported illegal immigration into the Arakan region of thousands of Muslim Bengali people from the over-populated East Pakistan.
CONTAINING MILITARY OPERATIONS OF MUJAHID MILITANTS
When the rebellion was becoming intensified the Burmese government declared martial law and took firm action to contain the militants. This led to the subjugation of the Mujahid insurgency and the Muslim insurgents fled to the jungles of northern Arakan. Between 1950 and 1954, the Burmese army launched major military operations against the Mujahid rebels in Northern Arakan. All major centres of the Mujahids were captured and several of their leaders were subdued. Towards the end of 1961, most Mujahids surrendered, but some formed small armed groups and continued to loot, harass and terrorize the Burmese Buddhists, especially in remote regions in Northern Arakan.
THE RADICALIST MOVEMENTS (1971-1988)
During Bangladesh Libration War in 1971, the Rohingya Muslim who resided in the Myanmar-Bangladesh border had the opportunity to collect weapons. In 1972, the Rohingya Muslims formed the Rohingya Liberation Party (RLP) with activities based in the jungles of Buthidaung. Military Operation conducted by the Burmese Army in 1974 led to many Muslim insurgents fleeing to neighboring Bangladesh.
In March 1978, the Burmese government launched a campaign to check illegal immigrants residing in Burma. This led to many thousands of Rohingyas in the Arakan region crossing the border to Bangladesh. Arrests of illegal migrants by the Burmese army created unrest in Arakan and as a result, there was a mass exodus of around 252,000 refugees to Bangladesh.
In late 1982, the Burmese Citizenship Law was introduced and most of the Rohingyas were denied Burmese citizenship. Radical Rohingya militant group took this opportunity to recruit many Rohingya Muslims who were occupying the region along the Bangladesh-Burma border. In the early 1980s, radical Muslims formed the Rohingya Solidarity Organization (RSO) which soon became the most militant faction among the Rohingyas on the Burma-Bangladesh border. Using the Islam religious card the RSO was able to obtain various forms of assistance and support from the Muslim world, including the 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 and the Angkatan Belia Islam sa-Malaysia (ABIM), and the Islamic Youth Organization of Malaysia.
In 1991 and 1992, there was forced relocation of Muslims by the government and the creation of new Buddhist settlements in Buthidaung and Maungdaw townships. This provoked another mass exodus of Rohingya Muslims to Bangladesh.
CONNECTIONS WITH TALIBAN AND AL-QAEDA (1988-2011)
The military camps of Rohingya Solidarity Organization (RSO) were located in the Cox’s Bazaar district in southern Bangladesh. In 1991, it possessed a large number of military equipment, including light machine-guns, AK-47 assault rifles, RPG-2 rocket launchers, claymore mines and explosives.
They were equipped with UK-made 9mm Sterling L2A3 sub-machine guns, M-16 assault rifles and point-303 rifles. Afghan’s Taliban instructors were associated with RSO camps along the Bangladesh-Burma border.
Many RSO rebels were undergoing training in the Afghan province of Khost with Hizb-e-Islami Mujahideen.
The expansion of the RSO in the late 1980s and early 1990s made the Burmese government 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.
In late 1998, Rohingya Solidarity Organization (RSO) and Arakan Rohingya Islamic Front (ARIF) combined to form the Rohingya National Council (RNC) with its own armed wing, gathering the different Rohingya insurgents into one group. In 2001, they underwent training in Libya and Afghanistan, in guerrilla warfare and the use of a variety of explosives and heavy-weapons. They had several meetings with Al-Qaeda representatives.
Throughout 2012 and in 2013, there have been a series of riots and much violence in Northern Arakan in the Rakhine State, between extremist Rohingya Muslims and the indigenous Rakhini or Arakanese people.
Muslim fanatics are largely responsible for the outbreak of violence.
The 2012 riots began after a Rakhine teenage girl was brutally raped and cut into pieces by three Muslim fanatics. This immediately led to an outrage and retaliation by the Rakhine community.
This was followed by the extremist Muslims resorting to extreme forms of violence, destroying many villages in their entirety and murdering many innocent people. Those displaced by these riots exceeded 50, 000. The situation in the Rakhine state remains tense.
In 2013, the worst violence in Myanmar was in Meikhtila city, which resulted in widespread bloodshed and destruction of property, and the displacement of nearly 10,000 people who were forced out of their homes. A State of Emergency was declared and the army took control of the city.
The devastation was reminiscent of last year’s clashes between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Muslim Rohingya that left hundreds of people dead and more than 100,000 displaced.
The struggle to contain the violence has become a major challenge to the government. Buddhist and Muslim communities live in near-total segregation, constantly fearing more violence.
The violence in Meikhtila city began once news spread that a Muslim man had killed a Buddhist monk. Soon, Buddhist mobs rampaged through a Muslim neighborhood and the situation quickly became out of control.