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Myanmar’s Rohingya Insurgency issues detailed list of demands this week that struck a far more pragmatic note

A detailed list of demands was issued this week that struck a far more pragmatic note while describing the use of violence in the past as self-defense

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Rohingya
Rohingya refugees collect aid supplies including food and medicine, sent from Malaysia, at Kutupalang Unregistered Refugee Camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, Feb. 15, 2017, VOA

Yangon, March 30, 2017: The Rohingya Muslim insurgency, whose sneak attacks in October killed nine border guard officers in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine State, issued a detailed list of demands this week that struck a far more pragmatic note while describing the use of violence in the past as self-defense.

Ata Ullah, the commander of the Faith Movement, now rebranded as the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), signed the March 29 list, which has been verified and seems to have been timed to the anniversary of Aung San Suu Kyi’s first year in power. Arakan is another name for Rakhine.

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A new presentation

In a preamble to the 20 demands, the ARSA said it does not associate with any terrorist organizations, eschews attacks against civilians and religious minorities, and wants to state “loud and clear” that its “defensive attacks” are only aimed at the “oppressive Burmese regime.” They said they would support international peacekeeping troops in the state.

Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy, won elections in late 2015 and swore in its president, Htin Kyaw, one year ago today. Suu Kyi, barred from the presidency by the 2008 military-drafted constitution, assumed the roles of foreign minister and state counselor. But the military still controls 25 percent of parliament and three key ministries.

By far the most polished and level-headed presentation of the group’s goals, the list stands in stark contrast to grainy YouTube videos posted in the days after the attack, which showed men holding guns and reading off declarations in a forest hideout.

Among other things, the demands include calls for political representation, citizenship rights, access to relief aid, education opportunities, freedom of movement and religion, the return of property, the ability to participate in trade and commercial activities, and the return of Rohingya refugees.

“It’s significant they deny connections to terrorist organizations, deny targeting civilians, and speak mostly of rights-based objectives,” said Matthew Smith, executive director of the NGO Fortify Rights, in an email. “We have no evidence that the group is well-trained, well-financed, or well-organized, but it’s clear they aren’t going anywhere.”

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Muslim insurgencies began in 1940s

Since Myanmar became independent in 1948, Muslim insurgencies in Rakhine have emerged under different political contexts over the decades, a reflection of self-determination sought by members of other faiths and ethnic groups across the country. Myanmar does not recognize the Rohingya as one of its many ethnic groups, denies them citizenship and has pushed them out of the political sphere.

The International Crisis Group said in a report last year that the Faith Movement was formed around 2012 after inter-communal violence in Rakhine killed hundreds and sent more than 120,000 Rohingya into IDP camps in the state capital Sittwe, where they remain today. Its leaders are centered in the Rohingya diaspora in Saudi Arabia, the report said.

Accusations of atrocities

As part of the hunt for militants in the wake of the October attacks, Myanmar’s armed forces have been accused of numerous atrocities, including rape and arson. An estimated 1,000 people have been killed.

The government has vehemently denied the more serious of the accusations, but mounting testimonies pushed the United Nations Human Rights Council to green light a fact-finding mission last week. It is not clear whether the U.N. will gain access.

Meanwhile, tens of thousands of Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh, and the area of the state where the attacks occurred remains under lockdown except for rare visits and supervised tours.

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A hard line by the Myanmar military

Zaw Htay, a spokesman for the president’s office, did not immediately return requests for comment on the Rohingya demands. But Myanmar’s Commander-in-Chief, Min Aung Hlaing this week gave an indication of how the government will view the demands of the ARSA and the prospect of a U.N. probe.

At the annual Armed Forces Day in the capital Naypyitaw, the general called the Rohingya illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

“We have already let the world know that we don’t have Rohingya in our country,” he said, according to reports of his speech.

Two senior U.N. officials working among the Rohingya refugees said more than 1,000 Rohingya might have been killed during the four-month security operation. However, Myanmar presidential spokesman Zaw Htay has previously said fewer than 100 people had been killed during the operation. (VOA)

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India to Set Up “Border Haats” with Myanmar

The Minister said, The success of the "Border Haats" running along the Bangladesh border in Meghalaya and Tripura has prompted us to go for similar 'haats'

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India, Border Haats, Myanmar
To carry out border trade with Myanmar, the location for the construction of 'Border Haat' has been identified in four places -- Hnahlan, Zote, Vaphai (Saikhumphai) and Sangau (Pangkhua) in southeastern Mizoram. Pixabay

The success of the “Border Haats” with Bangladesh has prompted other northeastern states of India to go for similar arrangements with Myanmar. At the instance of the Mizoram government, the Centre is likely to set up four “Border Haats” (market) along the border with Myanmar to boost local trade and livelihood of the people living there.

“To carry out border trade with Myanmar, the location for the construction of ‘Border Haat’ has been identified in four places — Hnahlan, Zote, Vaphai (Saikhumphai) and Sangau (Pangkhua) in southeastern Mizoram,” Mizoram Commerce and Industries Minister R. Lalthangliana told IANS.

The Minister said, “The success of the “Border Haats” running along the Bangladesh border in Meghalaya and Tripura has prompted us to go for similar ‘haats’ with Mynmar in Mizoram.”

Mizoram Commerce and Industries Department Director J. Hmingthanmawia said that the state government has sent the detailed proposals in this regard to the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) for its approval.

India, Border Haats, Myanmar
The success of the “Border Haats” with Bangladesh has prompted other northeastern states of India to go for similar arrangements with Myanmar. Pixabay

“Once we get the green signal from the MEA, we would seek funds from the Union Industries and Commerce Ministry,” Hmingthanmawia told IANS. He said that officials of the Mizoram government and Myanmar have recently conducted a joint survey and identified the locations to set up the “Border Haats”.

Mizoram Chief Minister Zoramthanga in his Independence Day speech had said that the proposed “Border Haats” would become important trade points between India and Myanmar.

“Land Custom Station (LCS) at Zokhawthar, the lone trade route for Mizoram with South East Asian countries, is being proposed for upgradation. Construction of Trade Facilitation Centre at Tlabung has already been completed.”

“The Indian government has also proposed construction of an Integrated Check Post (ICP) at four places at the border in Mizoram — Marpara, Tuipuibari, Silsuri and Nunsury. The construction of ICP at Kawrpuichhuah is also expected to commence shortly,” the Chief Minister added.

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Mizoram has an unfenced international border of 404 km with Myanmar and 318 km with Bangladesh. The Border Security Force (BSF) has been guarding the Bangladesh border and Assam Rifles personnel are posted on the border with Myanmar.

Experts and various studies suggest that if the “Border Haats” are set up, smuggling of drugs and other commodities would be checked to a large extent. Security expert Manas Paul said that large-scale smuggling of drugs from Myanmar via Mizoram and other neighbouring states has increased in the last few years.

“What is really worrisome is the fact that these synthetic drugs have got a domestic market inside the state, especially among the younger generation. Cross border legal activities including setting up of “Border Haats” could curb the smuggling of drugs and other contraband,” Paul, who has authored books on security and terrorism in the northeast, told IANS.

The CUTS International, a Jaipur based international NGO, with support from the World Bank, had conducted a study in 2016 to understand and examine the effect of “Border Haats” on poverty alleviation and other multiplier effects such as informal trade.

India, Border Haats, Myanmar
At the instance of the Mizoram government, the Centre is likely to set up four “Border Haats” (market) along the border with Myanmar to boost local trade and livelihood of the people living there. Pixabay

CUTS International Executive Director Bipul Chatterjee said that trade will increase income, curb smuggling, and cross-border crimes will also go down.

“‘Border Haats’ have contributed to the border area development, roads have improved, trafficking of women has stopped, unemployment issues have been addressed,” said Chatterjee.

Currently four “Border Haats” are operational in Meghalaya and Tripura. The first “Border Haat” was started on July 23, 2011 at Kalaichar (India)-Kurigram (Bangladesh) in the West Garo Hills of Meghalaya. Three other “haats” followed in Meghalaya and Tripura.

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The Union Industries and Commerce Ministry has been spending on an average Rs 3.5 crore to develop the infrastructure and necessary facilities for each “Border Haat” along the Bangladesh border. The Bangladesh government is not providing any funds for the purpose.  (IANS)