Rohingya rebels say ‘no other option’ but to fight Myanmar
Rohingya Muslim militants said on Sunday they have no option but to fight what they called Myanmar’s state-sponsored terrorism to defend the Rohingya community, and they demanded that the Rohingya be consulted on all decisions affecting their future.
The Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) launched raids on the Myanmar security forces on August 25, which sparked sweeping counter-insurgency operations in the Muslim-majority north of Rakhine State that led to widespread violence and arson and an exodus of some 650,000 Rohingya villagers to Bangladesh.
The United Nations condemned the Myanmar military campaign as ethnic cleansing. Buddhist-majority Myanmar rejected that.
But since the August raids, the small insurgent group has launched few if any attacks until Friday, when its fighters ambushed a Myanmar military truck, wounding several members of the security forces.
“ARSA has … no other option but to combat ‘Burmese state-sponsored terrorism’ against the Rohingya population for the purpose of defending, salvaging and protecting the Rohingya community,” the group said in a statement signed by leader Ata Ullah and posted on Twitter. “Rohingya people must be consulted in all decision-making that affects their humanitarian needs and political future.”
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The ARSA claimed responsibility for the Friday ambush but gave no details of the clash.
A Myanmar government spokesman said the insurgents were trying to delay the repatriation of refugees from Bangladesh under a plan the two governments have been working on.
“ARSA aims to frighten those who are considering returning, to show the region doesn’t have peace,” Zaw Htay said.
Myanmar and Bangladesh have been discussing a plan to repatriate the refugees but more insecurity in Myanmar is likely to raise even more doubts about how quickly that might happen.
The refugees complain that they have not been consulted on the plan.
Details of the repatriation plan have yet to be finalised and many questions remain, not only about security but also about the terms refugees will return under, and whether they will be able to go back to their homes or be resettled in camps.
Rohingya have for years been denied citizenship, freedom of movement and access to services such as health care. Myanmar regards them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
Zaw Htay rejected the ARSA call for the Rohingya to be consulted saying the government was already negotiating with leaders of both the Buddhist and Muslim communities.
“We will not accept terrorism and fight against them until the end,” the spokesman said, adding that no one should offer any support to the group.
The ARSA dismisses any links to Islamist militant groups and says it is fighting to end the oppression of the Rohingya people.
ARSA did not say where leader Ata Ullah was but Myanmar suspects the insurgents flee into Bangladesh then slip back into Myanmar to launch attacks.
A military spokesman declined to make any immediate comment about the security situation in the north of Rakhine State.
The area is largely off-limits to reporters. The head of a new crisis panel has urged more access to Rakhine for the media.
Surakiart Sathirathai, a former Thai foreign minister, also expressed concern at the arrest of two Reuters reporters in Myanmar last month and said he hoped the case did not lead to broader restrictions on the international media.
“I think press and humanitarian access to Rakhine are important issues as well as free access to other stakeholders,” said Surakiart in an interview in Bangkok. “Legitimate press coverage is something that should be enhanced.”
Surakiart, 59, was chosen last year by Myanmar’s unofficial leader Aung San Suu Kyi to head a 10-member board that will advise on how to implement the recommendations of an earlier commission led by former UN secretary general Kofi Annan.
Allowing free media coverage was one of the specific recommendations in the 63-page report from Annan’s commission, which was appointed by Suu Kyi in 2016 to investigate how to solve Rakhine’s long-standing ethnic and religious tensions.
Reuters reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, who had worked on coverage of the crisis in the western state, were arrested in Yangon on December 12 on suspicion of violating Myanmar’s Official Secrets Act.
Surakiart said he had raised concerns about their case with Suu Kyi’s national security adviser Thaung Tun. He said he had asked for the case to be dealt with transparently and been assured that proper legal procedures would be followed.
“I hope that this would not snowball in adverse directions for both the international press and the Myanmar government,” Surakiart added. “I hope the case will not lead to the Myanmar government not welcoming the international press. I want this to be a specific case and hope for a quick resolution to it.”