Burma: Regime behind Rohingya ethnic cleansing


Source from Greenleft, 26 June 2012

By Tony Iltis

Rohingya refugees trying to make it to Bangladesh.

There are wildly divergent estimates of the death toll from ethnic and religious violence in the Burmese state of Arakan.

Mainstream media reports and the Burmese government are claiming that fewer than 100 people have been killed in violence they describe as clashes between the Buddhist Rakhine majority and Muslim Rohingya minority communities.

However, Rohingya sources estimate thousands of deaths from a planned campaign of violent ethnic cleansing by Burmese government forces. Rohingya sources say the regime has been instigating Rakhine mob violence as part of their campaign.

France 24 said on June 22: “More than 80 people have been killed and thousands displaced in a wave of violence between Muslims and Buddhists in west Burma.”

On June 21, the Burmese government put the death toll at 62, Associated Press reported.

But the National Democratic Party for Human Rights (NDPHR), a Rohingya political party that won four seats in the democratic 1990 Burmese elections, said on June 19: “The information from Arakan confirmed that the death toll of Rohingya has exceeded 10,000 from Sittwe city alone, and a few thousand from Maungdaw, Rathedaung and Kyauktaw townships.

“Most of them were shot dead, brutally beaten to death, burnt alive and the rest were those taken away by security forces into hidden areas.”

Reports on social media from Rohingya sources inside Arakan, such as the NDPHR, have been published in English on Malaysian-based website The Sail and the site of the Ethnic Rohingya Committee of Arakan in Malaysia.

These reports make a grim catalogue: along with mass killings, alleged atrocities include burning of villages, mass rape, mass arrests, torture, looting and extortion.

Rakhine mobs and armed Rakhine elements have been responsible for much of the violence, but the main perpetrators have been the military and paramilitary forces of the Burmese government: the police, the army, the navy and in particular the Nasaka border security forces.

There are also reports of clashes between Rohingya and Rakhine rioters and clashes between government forces and armed Rakhine groups.

The violence started on June 3 in Taungup township when 10 Rohingya bus passengers were beaten to death by a 300-strong lynch mob. For the preceding week, Buddhist extremist hate groups ― assisted by the local media in Arakan ― had been blaming Muslims for the May 28 rape and murder of a Rakhine woman in the village of Thabyaychaung.

This was used as a pretext to whip up violent anti-Rohingya sentiment.

The NDPHR said activists from the Wanthanu Rakheta Association were distributing anti-Muslim leaflets in Taungup on the morning of June 3 immediately before the lynching.

On June 18, three Rohingya men were sentenced to death for the May 28 rape and murder, Democratic Voice of Burma reported. One of the three, “accused of masterminding” the crime, had already died in custody (officially suicide), but death sentences can be given retrospectively under Burmese law.

Phil Robertson, head of the Asia division of Human Rights Watch (FRW), told DVB: “We condemn the imposition of the death penalty in all cases as cruel and inhumane treatment. But we’ve also had no access to information about this case, so there is no way to say whether the three men on trial are in fact guilty.”

Chris Lewa, Director of the Arakan Project, told DVB: “My concern would be whether there was any kind of proper judicial system. This was quite quick.”

More than a third of Burma’s population belongs to oppressed nationalities and dozens of national liberation struggles have been ongoing since Burma won independence in 1948. In the past, both Rakhine and Rohinhya armed groups have fought the Burmese government in Arakan, and sometimes each other.

No Rohingya groups have been involved in armed struggle for 10 years. The main Rakhine rebel group, the Arakan Liberation Party, entered peace talks with the government this year.

Successive US governments have had a strained relationship with Burma’s military rulers. The US even provides not-so-covert support to some of the insurgent groups.

However, a confidential October 10, 2002, cable from the US embassy in Rangoon ― published by WikiLeaks on August 30 last year ― repeats in good faith spurious allegations by Burmese military intelligence linking the Rohingya national movement with Osama bin Laden.

The same cable expresses scepticism at Burmese government charges of terrorism against other armed national movements.

The Burmese government has used the anti-Islam bias in the “war on terror” narrative, which the West now uses to justify its wars, to delegitimise Rohingya self-determination to Western policy makers.

Reporting the current violence in Arakan, the Western media have generally repeated claims by the Burmese regime and Rakhine chauvinists that the Rohingya are not indigenous to Arakan, but are immigrants from Bangladesh or their descendants.

In reality, the Rohingya can trace their existence in Arakan as far back as the Rakhine can. There are records of Islamic political entities in Arakan more than a millennium ago.

Antipathy between different ethnic and religious groups was fostered by the British during the colonial period. In World War II, just before Burma won independence, Arakan was the site of some of the biggest clashes between the British and Japanese empires.

Intersecting with this conflict was Burma’s struggle for independence and many local conflicts. This resulted in large-scale violence between Japanese-armed Rakhine and British-armed Rohingya militias.

Both sides committed massacres of civilians, but the Rohingya bore the brunt of them. There was a large flow of Rohingya refugees to the nearest British territory: what is today Bangladesh.

Since independence in 1948, there have been anti-Rohingya pogroms in 1949, 1967-8, 1978 and 1991, sending more refugees to Bangladesh.

Encouraging Buddhist chauvinism and anti-Rohingya prejudice is the Burmese state’s political response to Rakhine nationalism. For its part, Bangladesh sees the Rohingya as illegal immigrants from Burma.

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