Amidst speculations that the US is set to station its Seventh Fleet in the Bay of Bengal to checkmate China‘s growing power, Myanmar dispatched troops and naval vessels to the western Rakhine state bordering Bangladesh while its security forces killed over a dozen of Rohinga minority Muslims and injured hundreds other after curfew and emergency rules were imposed last week.
The latest violence is the worst in the country’s history, compounded further by joint actions against the Rohingya minority Muslims by the Rakhine Buddhists, as well as Myanmar’s military and border guard troopers.
Hundreds of Rohingyas have already left their domiciles and flocked at various points along the Bangladesh border. Hundreds more are afloat on boats in the Naaf river, according to reports.
Sensing the gravity of the crisis, the UN has requested Bangladesh to offer shelter and succour to the refugees while the USA has expressed concerns over what seems like the worst humanitarian crisis of recent decades in the continent of Asia.
Curiously, the behaviour of Myanmar’s military-backed regime makes one to believe that the crisis is more geopolitical than humanitarian. Myanmar’s state TV reported that the country’s naval forces took security measures along the nearby coast on the Bay of Bengal, prompting the Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) troopers to reinforce their presence along the 200 km long porous border.
Rooted in century old ethno-religious divisiveness, the Rohingya crisis entails serious regional and global ramifications. The Rakhine state comprises of the historic Arakan State, once a sovereign and independent statehood ruled respectively by Hindu, Buddhist and Muslim rulers until the Burmese king Bodaw Paya conquered it on 28th December 1784 AD.
Sandwiched between the Muslim predominant Bangladesh and the Buddhist predominant Myanmar, the state of Arakan is mostly inhabited by two ethnic groups - the Rakhine Buddhists and the Rohingya Muslims, the latter having close ethno-cultural affinity with neighbouring Bangladesh. The state is rich in natural resources and bridges South and South East Asia at the confluence of strategic Bay of Bengal.
In recent decades, the Rohingya refugee crisis has dogged relationship between Bangladesh and Myanmar and called for Chinese diplomatic interventions a number of times. Now, a major geopolitical transformation is underway due to Myanmar being a tested friendly state of China and a strategic outpost for Beijing in the Bay of Bengal.
It also seems plausible that the US’s latest bid to befriend Myanmar has given the military-backed regime an additional aura of authoritativeness and arrogance. The dynamic of the latest round of violence does give rise to such misgivings.
Look how the latest crisis churned out of control about three weeks ago, following the alleged rape and murder of a young Buddhist girl, reportedly by three Muslim youths. Long before an investigation into the incident could be concluded, radical Buddhist activists, reportedly under state-sponsorship, distributed anti-Muslim pamphlets to up the ante.
More ominously, on June 3, 10 Muslims were killed by a group of Buddhist terrorists who attacked a bus carrying the victims from a religious gathering. The attackers set on fire dozens of Muslim residences, stabbed people in groups and looted properties.
As the military-backed regime failed to take appropriate measures in stopping the pogrom, one of the many since the late 1970s, hundreds of refugees began to move toward Bangladesh borders to avoid indiscriminate shooting by marauding security forces.
Despite that, officials from Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB), as well as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, maintain they have no intent to allow the rushing influx of refugees to enter Bangladesh. One official said, “We already have had more than our fair share of the burden.”
There is reason for having such a tough stance on the plight of fellow human beings. According to a recently released UNHCR report, Bangladesh still hosts more than 29,000 refugees from Myanmar, who are stranded indefinitely since over 250,000 of them entered the country amidst another brutal military crackdown in 1991.
To make things worse, Myanmar’s military junta even dared to conduct a surprised and audacious raid deep inside Bangladesh to dismantle a Bangladeshi border outpost to facilitate the exodus of Rohingya Muslims during the 1991 clampdown.
That being the backdrop, some analysts believe the latest outbreak of violence may be related to Bangladesh’s reported consent to allowing the US’s Seventh Fleet to station near Bangladesh’s territorial water. They think, by generating a fresh influx of Rohingya refugees, Myanmar may be seeking to strangulate Bangladesh into a discomforted strategic loop.
Bangladesh is the most thickly populated nation on earth. Yet, according to one concerned Bangladeshi official who requested not be named, besides the UNHCR-registered refugees, another about 200,000 unregistered Rohingyas live inside Bangladesh without any legal status and ‘create undue burden on availability of works for the locals.’
And, this is not the first time the Rohingyas faced systematic onslaught on their lives and liberty, making the prolonged and mysterious silence of the global community on their recurring plights almost unforgiving. Their routine persecutions and systematic ethnic cleansing have also been one of the least reported episodes in the global media.
As the new Myanmar regime seeks to open up to the world outside, its accountability with respect to human rights needs to be ensured first. The global community can not have one set of principles for the safeguard of minorities in other parts of the world while the Rohingyas face virtual obliteration and dismemberment in the hands of a brutal, autocratic regime.
This is an issue that deserves immediate global attention. According to rights group, total Rohingya population in Myanmar numbered about 3.7 million in the 1960s, of which less than a million survived the repeated onslaughts and the brutal ethnic cleansing orchestrated jointly since the 1980s by the Rakhine Buddhist radicals on one hand, and, a military regime with little respect for human rights, on the other.
As many of the uprooted Rohingys settled gradually in Bangladesh, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Thailand and Malaysia, the UNHCR claims only about 800,000 of them now remain in the three contiguous districts of the Rakhine state abutting Bangladesh.
Insisting on anonymity, one senior Rohingya leader said, “A blue print is at work to eliminate us altogether.” Given that the Rohingyas remain stateless at large - neither Bangladesh, nor Myanmar, recognizes them as citizen – such an apprehension can not be trivialized.
Abu Tahay, chairman of the Rohingya’s main political platform, National Democratic Party for Development, said the curfew and the emergency rules are ‘being abused by the Myanmar security forces to ransack Rohingya houses and round up suspects.’ He claimed more than 300 Rohingyas went missing in Maungdaw alone.”
“It’s very dangerous for them. If anyone talks to the media, the authorities take action. People are scared to speak,” Tahay said from an undisclosed location.
BY : M. Shahidul Islam.