MYANMAR CONFLICT ASSESSMENT

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MYANMAR CONFLICT ASSESSMENT
By Kishor Narayan is American University, School of International Service (SIS), Graduate Student, Bangalore, Karnataka, India.

Myanmar has been one of the most secluded nations on earth in the past two to three decades. It was only recently that the military junta which ruled the nation with an iron fist decided to not only hold free and fair elections but also to open up its borders. As more interactions happen between the outside world and Myanmar, the rest of us get to understand the intricacies of Myanmar. Myanmar has been plagued by internal conflicts ever since independence. The conflicts not only take place between the government forces and certain sections of the population, but also between different ethnic and religious groups. Ever since 2011, the clashes between Rohingya Muslims on one side and the Arakan Buddhists and the government forces on the other have created international headlines.

Rohingya Muslims are an ethnic group who are a minority group in the Rakhine state, which borders neighbouring Bangladesh, in Western Myanmar.

Myanmar has had its share of international conflict assessment teams visit them for an in-depth analysis of the series of internal conflicts that are plaguing the nation. Will Carter led a three-member team to Myanmar to complete a Strategic Conflict Assessment and Conflict Sensitivity Study (Carter, 2012) but it collected data and studied only from two conflict-affected areas in the country – Kachin state and Mon state. Lauren Durand has conducted an extensive pan-national study on the nature of conflicts across Myanmar (Durand). Sana Saeed too has written extensively on the oppression meted out to Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar focusing on the structural root causes of the problem (Saeed, 2014).

This article will confine itself to the conflict in the state of Rakhine in western Myanmar and primarily between the Rohingya Muslims on the one hand and the Tatmadaw (Myanmar military) and the Rakhine people (who themselves are a minority mainly following Therawada Buddhism) on the other. This article will use the collected data from various sources and apply the first task in the ICAF framework – Conflict Diagnosis – to assess the conflict.

Myanmar is a multi-ethnic state in Southeast Asia which achieved its independence from the British in 1948. A controversial law was enacted by the government – referred to as the 1982 Citizenship Law – intended to define and categorize the many ethnic communities and the general population into three different citizenship layers (Burma Citizenship Law, 1982). However, the law was so enacted to leave out Rohingya Muslims found in the Rakhine state. Surprisingly, the Arakan Buddhists found in the same state were included in the law. The Myanmar government was of the opinion that the Rohingyas came from Bangladesh and should return back, whereas Bangladesh would not take them back. The Rohingyas were suddenly stateless in their own land where they had lived for many generations.

 In May 2012, a young Arakan Buddhist lady was raped and murdered by three Rohingya Muslim men. Arakan villagers retaliated by killing Muslims and this led to Rohingyas killing an unknown number of Arakan people and also targeting Arakan property. What has resulted has been an inhuman destruction to life and property on both sides (HRW, 2012). Rohingya Muslims, on the account of being stateless have been accused of usurping the land which belonged to the rightful settlers of the land – the Arakan. With the government troops also persecuting the Rohingyas, they have their backs against the wall. Many Rohingyas have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh, while a few others have fled to Thailand, India, Japan, and United Kingdom. Most other Rohingyas are living in settlement camps in various parts of Rakhine state.

All the ethnic communities of Myanmar, the government and the Buddhist monks are united in their belief that the Rohingyas are not Burmese people but actually “Bengali” people from neighbouring Bangladesh. As a result, the President of Myanmar Mr. Thein Sein wants the entire Rohingya population to be deported out of Myanmar. As much as Myanmar wants them out, no other state is willing to accept them in thus rendering them stateless (Economist, 2012).

Heart of the problem is the issue of citizenship of the Rohingya Muslims – how they are treated as stateless people in their own land, one where many of them have lived for many generations. Due to the constant tensions in the affected areas, both communities – Rohingyas and Rakhines – live in settlement camps. Rakhine state alone has about 140,000 Internally Displaced People and the capital town Sittwe has about 75,000 of them. In addition, there are many more who have fled out of Myanmar. There have been reports that the settlement camps housing the Arakan Buddhists have more facilities than the ones housing Rohingyas (Galache, 2014).

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