Radicalisation Creates Ethnic Conflict Between Rohingya Muslims, Buddhists

‘Rohingya Muslim Community Refugees’ (RMCR)s are actually Myanmar (Burma) Muslim Community Refugees. These Refugees have a population around 800,000 in Myanmar and they are regarded as illegal aliens, who came from Bangladesh to steal scarce land. They are branded illegal infiltrators by the Government of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar (GRUM), and have been denied basic civil rights and deprived of citizenship under a 1984 law, which excluded them as one of the country’s 135 ethnic groups.

Bangladesh Denies Recognition

Rohingya Refugees in unhygienic makeshift camp
View of an unhygienic makeshift camp on the outskirts of Delhi, India.

The Government of the Peoples’ Republic of Bangladesh rejects recognition of these refugees as their bona-fide citizens and denies them entry into Bangladesh (erstwhile East Pakistan of present Pakistan State, popularly known as – Purbo Bango or Purbo Bangla). The refugees face official discrimination, a strategy encouraged by the previous Burmese junta regime to enlist popular support among other groups.

These Myanmar refugees allege that they fled from their home-state – Rakhine (previously Arakan) State of Myanmar in the years – 1978, 1991 to 1992, 2009, 2012 and took shelter in various registered (by United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, known as – UNHCR) and unregistered refugee camps due to systematic kidnapping, raping, torturing, killing and religious persecution by the Myanmarese frontier international border guards.

“Actually, just after World War II (1939 to 1945) the first wave of RMCR arrived in British control undivided India’s Undivided Bengal Province, after Japanese soldiers committed myriad acts of inhumane torture, rape, murder on thousands in the Rohingya Muslim Community. At that time, around 22,000 Rohingyas fled from their Arakan State region and were believed to have crossed over the present Burma-Bangladesh international boundary and entered into British ruled Bengal Province to escape the violence. The flow of Rohingyas happened once again after frequent carnage by the Burmese and Japanese forces. At that time it was about 40,000, who took shelter to Chittagong District region of present Bangladesh,” according to United Nations records.

The Most Forgotten People

The South Asian writer-cum-expert, Subir Bhaumik, wrote in an article, “The Buddhist Rakhines and the world’s most forgotten people – Rohingya Muslims, have a long tradition of yawning enmity, which goes back to the sturdy flood of Religious Muslim immigrants from Bengal’s Chittagong region into Arakan province, movement that was persuaded by the English. Thousands of Thousands Rakhines and Rohingya died in clashes in Arakan Province in the year, 1942, that is, during the World War-II. The Japanese also massacred large number of RMC peoples because; the community peoples supported the English.”

According to UNHCR records, Government of Peoples’ Republic of Bangladesh, other Indian Intelligence Sources and various Rohingya organizations claimed, “Since 1978, the areas like – Teknaf, Ukhia of Cox’s Bazar district of Bangladesh have been dotted under huge stress due to unabated illegal Burmese Refugees. The huge wave of Myanmar illegal infiltrators illegally entered into those areas in February, 1978 to 1979, because of the infamous Burmese Army Operation, namely – Nagamin Sit Sin Yay (that is, ‘Dragon King’).” As a result of this, around 250,000 to 300,000 refugees took shelter illegally in those areas of Bangladesh. It is said that later almost all the refugees returned to their nation in 1979.

Encouraging The Rohingya

During the regime of General Ziaur Rahman, President of Bangladesh from 21st April, 1977 to 30th May, 1981, the Rohingyas were encouraged to take shelter in Bangladesh and to raise an armed struggle against the military-led Government of the Republic of the Union of Burma. When General Rahman’s wife became Prime Minister of Bangladesh, between 20th March, 1991 and 30th March, 1996, she also encouraged the Rohingya to settle in Bangladesh.

As a result, large numbers of Myanmar Rohingya Refugees illegally crossed over the Myanmar-Bangladesh International Border from 1991 to 1992, when they faced oppression and ill treatment, including abuse, forced labour, harassment, rape, arbitrary land seizure, destruction of property, execution, persecution, and more, by the Myanmarese Junta Government.

Myanmar Operations Pyi Thaya and Na-Sa-Ka

During July, 1991 to 1992, Myanmar launched Operation Pyi Thaya (Clean & Beautiful Nation) and Operation Na-Sa-Ka. About 250,000 to 270,000 Rohingya fled to Bangladesh and took shelter in 20 refugee camps. Of those, about 50,000 refugees returned to Burma in 1993, and around 230,000 from 1994 to December, 1995, after the Governments of Bangladesh and Myanmar signed an agreement in April, 1992 for the ‘safe voluntary’ return of Rohingya refugees.

Then, between 1996-1997, around 25,000 Rohingya refugee illegally entered Bangladesh, but at that time, the Government of Bangladesh denied them refugee status. Another ethnic conflict broke out in Myanmar’s State of Rakhine, in 2009 and again in June, 2012, causing, many Rohingya people to try to take shelter in Bangladesh. The Government of Bangladesh refused to accept any Rohingya refugees for “fragile economic, social and environmental reasons.”

United Nations Reports

According to various UN reports, “Tal camp set up in the year – 2002 at Teknaf Upazila under Cox’s Bazar district again it relocated at Leda Bazar Camp.”

Around 34,000 Muslim refugees created a new camp known as Kutupalong, between 2009-2010. At the same time, the UN report says there were around 300,000 undocumented stateless Rohingya Muslim minority refugees, whom Myanmar had refused recognition as Myanmar citizens for many years. They had taken shelter and were staying illegally around Cox’s Bazar, Bandarban and Chittagong districts of Bangladesh, one of the poorest areas in Bangladesh.

Kutupalong and Nayapara in Cox’s Bazar district had 29,000 registered refugees (11,500 in Kutupalong and 17,500 in Nayapara). These registered Rohingya refugees obtained UNHCR official ‘refugee status’ and had been living in the UNHCR camps. 20,000 were unregistered in Kutapalong and another 10,000 unregistered in Leda Bazar camp near Nayapara in Cox’s Bazar district, living in private camps in unhygienic conditions.

The United Nations World Food Programme (UNWFP) reports, “About 200,000 to 400,000 Rohingya Muslim refugee spontaneously had settled across the Cox’s Bazar district of Bangladesh in June, 2010, while in June, 2012, there are around 92,000 refugees once again fled from their native areas Arakan State after ethnic conflict occurred between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslim Community, but Myanmar Government in this connection stated about 52,000 Rohingya peoples fled from the nation after the ethnic clash broke out.”

According to the Rohingya Muslim Community leaders, “It is fact that a number of factors linked to legal, political, economic and social aspects had persuaded the Rohingyas to cross the Bangladesh-Myanmar international border and entered into Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Pakistan, India, Thailand, Australia, and in various Middle East and European countries in a scattered way. Out of about the 2.5-million Rohingya Muslims, around 2-million were claimed to be living outside their country of origin, Burma. But, in this context, Bangladesh always took a silent spectator’s role.”

Under the UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, the Muslim refugees are not refugees.

Bangladesh Not A Signatory To Refugee Convention

Bangladesh is not a signatory to the United Nations Convention (UNC), neither has it ratified the UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, 1951 or its Protocol of 1967. Under the UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, 1951 or its Protocol of 1967, the Muslim refugees are not refugees. Because, under the above UNC, in order to be eligible for the status of a refugee, there should be ‘well founded fear of persecution by the nation, but Myanmar’s violence in Arakan State is a purely domestic law and order issue.

Myanmar Crimes Against Rohingya

The crimes against the Rohingya peoples were described as follows, “The Myanmar Government, under the military leadership of General Ne Win (who took control over Myanmar state through a military coup on 2nd March, 1962 and ruled the Burmese Government) ethnically cleansed the Rohingya Muslim Minority Community People and denied us all types of fundamental rights and status of Burma. We were declared stateless and not a single Article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was honoured.”

“We have been facing Restriction of Movement or Travel, on Education, Restriction on Ability to work, on Marriage, Prevention of reproduction and forced abortion, Depopulation of Rohingya community, Registration of births and deaths in families and even of domestic animals (cattle etcetera) and the associated extortion, Denial of Citizenship, Confiscation of residency/citizenship cards, Land Confiscation, Arbitrary Taxation and Extortion, Forced Eviction, Arbitrary arrest, Torture, Extra-judicial killing, Execution, Forced Labor, Ethnic discrimination, Religious persecution, Violence and rape aganist Rohingya Women and Elders, Destruction of homes, offices, schools, mosques, sites and shrines, etcetera.”

Supporting these facts, Haroon Habib, the renowned Bangladeshi journalist, stated, “Bangladesh couldn’t hold a new arrival of infiltrators due to her population boom, scarcity or shortage of lands and fragile economy. At present, most of the illegal refugees have reportedly merged with the local populace and huge chunk of them is said to be moved to South Asian countries like – India, Pakistan and Afghanistan and the West Asian nations as well on fake Bangladeshi passports.”

“Myanmar has the largest Rohingya Muslim Community population in the world – around 800,000, while another 250,000 are in Bangladesh and hundreds of thousands more are scattered around the world, primarily the Middle East,” a United Nations report says. The Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commission says in their reports, “There are 200,000 unregistered or undocumented RMCR.”

Nowhere Peoples

The nowhere peoples, who look like Bengalis and speak a dialect that is close to the language spoken in Teknaf, Ukhia and Cox’s Bazar and Chittagong region of Chittagong district of Bangladesh, also present felt, admitted and spoke, “Over the last two decades, public support in Bangladesh has significantly diminished, which also added to ensuing governments to be less sensitive to us. Because, the peoples of Bangladesh think we are being backed and equipped by Jamaat-i-Islami of Bangladesh, which party always and viciously opposed the Liberation War of Bangladesh, 1971.

The Begum Khaleda Zia-led Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), uses us as a vote-bank during election periods, is always encouraging us (that is, a major portion of the RMMCPs) to fight against the Myanmar Government and to demand ‘separate homeland for Rohingya Muslim Community’ by ‘secessionist movement’ on the soil of Burma, since the period of Zia-ur-Rehman. Not only that the raise in numbers of unregistered RMC peoples, whom are also ‘illegal economic migrants’ in the greater Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) areas, particularly in Bandarban and Chittagong districts of Bangladesh, have also annoyed the local ethnic communities of Bangladesh.”

What The Local Residents Say

Local people in Cox’s Bazar and Chittagong districts of Bangladesh allege, “It is true that the conditions of the children, girl-children, women, widows, aged men and women of RMCR peoples are very miserable due to no proper care and scarcity of facilities like – Health, Food, Sanitation, Drinking-water and Education. Unfortunately they took shelter in our areas and have undeniably created social, cultural and law and order problems.”

Poverty, Vulnerability and Lawlessness

Various international and Bangladesh Defence reports indicate poverty and lawlessness go together. “The socio-economically backward and insecure Rohingya Minority Muslim Community Refugee (RMMCR) peoples, (who are basically, deprived of their rights and status since 1962, when General Ne Win seized power in Myanmar) are known to fall prey to unscrupulous circles and their agents easily and as a result of this they are allegedly involved in the anti-social works like smuggling, narcotics trade and human trafficking.”

Fences Protect Against Border Crossing, Create Militants

The Myanmar Government started to erect an International Barbed Wire Border Fence (IBWBF) between Myanmar and Bangladesh in 2009. Once, where the movements of citizens between Myanmar and Bangladesh were easy in happier days, today it has totally stopped. Burmese labourers were working hard to erect International Border Fence (IBF) along the 320-kilometre (200 mile) Myanmar-Bangladesh International Border. Bangladesh might be fairly content with that border fence, but the Rohingya refugees were very much perturbed and upset.

At the same time, reports from South Asian Intelligence Agencies suggested, “Due to ‘persecution’ by the Myanmar State machinery, sections of RMMCRs have formed guerilla groups (such as the Arakan Rohingya National Organisation (ARNO) and the Arakan Rohingya Islamic Front) and to start secessionist movement to demand a ‘Separate Rohingya Land’ in the Rakhine State of Burma.” It has come true again, when a recent media coverage or report on the creation of the Arakan Rohingya Union (ARU) in Saudi Arabia State proposes, which such acts have not expired.

Reports also claim, “Several Rohingya Minority Muslim Community Refugees are involved in radical activities across the Bangladesh-Burma International Border and within Bangladesh territory. Most astonishing facts are that a number of Bangladeshi political parties, particularly the main opposition political party of Bangladesh – Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and its allied party like – Pan-Islamic religious support based political party, Jamat-i-Islami Bangladesh (JEIB), led by former PM of Bangladesh-Begum Khaleda Zia, Ameer Allama Mufti Fazlul Haque Amini-led Islami Oikyo Jote (IOJ), which is also the supporter of Pan Islamic Religious Fundamental Militant Group (PIRFMG) like Taliban and created massive chaos in social, economical, political, cultural and religious spheres of Bangladesh, had used the plight of the Rohingya refugees for their cheap political gains. Even, former president of Bangladesh – Hussain Muhammad Ershad led political party, Jatio Party (JP) to some extent involved on that context.”

Many Militant Groups

South Asian Intelligence Agencies further disclosed, “There are several militant groups of Rohingya Muslim Minority Community Groups in various periods. These are – Mujahideen, Rohingya National Army (RNA), Rohingya Liberation Party (RLP), Rohingya Patriotic Front (RPF), Rohingya Solidarity Organisation (RSO), Arakan Rohingya National Organisation (ARNO). Apart from these, there are also a few small groups such as the Central Rohingya Jammatul Ulama (CRJU), the Ittehadul Mujahiddial of Arakan or Itihadul Mujahideen of Arakan (IMA), the Rohingya Islamic Liberation Organisation (RILO), and the Arakan Rohingya Islamic Front (ARIF). These groups had joined the Democratic Alliance of Burma (DAB) in May, 1992, which currently is virtually inactive. These groups have always created a chaotic law and order situation through various anti-social and anti-national activities to obtain their rights and government facilities from the Burmese Government. Because, Government of Myanmar imposed ban and restrictions to enjoy various rights and facilities of them, due to their secessionist or insurgent movement activities.”

Supporting these facts, an Israeli historian, namely Moshe Yegar argued, “Mujahideen separatist movement in Rakhine Province happened due to intense discrimination and coercion on RMC by Government of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar.”

Wikipedia mentioned in their website Myanmar State’s Pan-Islamic Religious Fundamental Militant activities in detail. As per their records, the Bengali Speaking Islamic Extremist Group, known as Mujahid insurgency in Arakan State started in 1946 and continued up to 1961. Burma became independent from United Kingdom on 4th January, 1948. Subsequently, ‘Martial Law’ was declared in November, 1948 across the entire Myanmar nation. To combat the Islamic Militancy, various army operations were started in and around Arakan State Province.

Jami-a-tul Ulema-e-Islam and Armed Insurgency

An extensive armed insurgency began with the creation of a political party Jami-a-tul Ulema-e-Islam led by the chairman Omra Meah with the material backing of Ulnar Mohammad Muzahid Khan and Molnar Ibrahim. The goal of the Mujahideen insurgency was to amalgamate the Mayu frontier district of Arakan into former East Pakistan (presently, Bangladesh). But before the sovereignty of Myanmar, in May, 1946, a section of Muslim leaders from Rakhine State addressed themselves to Mohammad Ali Jinha, the founder and father of Pakistan nation and asked his support to take possession of Mayu (formerly known as – Manlayuwaddy, which passes through Buthidaung, Rathedaung and Sittwe [capital of Rakhine State] townships and ended in the bay of Bengal sea) river region and merge it to Pakistan that was about to be created. Two months later, North Arakan Muslim League (NMAL) was created in Sittwe (formerly known as – Akyab), which group also trying and demanding to merge with Pakistan. But, that plan was apparently denied by Muhammad Jinnah and didn’t surface.

In the meantime, the Myanmarese Central Government rejected a ‘Separate Islamic Autonomous State’ in the Manlayuwaddy region, where two townships – Buthidaung and Maungdaw are situated near the Burma-Bangladesh International Border. As a result of this, the Mujahideens from Northern Arakan affirmed ‘Jehad on Myanmar.’ The Mujahideen extremists started their militant activities in the Buthidaung and Maungdaw townships of Mayu region of Myanmar, which lies on the Burma-East Pakistan international boundary. The most astonishing fact was that a long-term illegitimate and key rice-smuggler namely, Abdul Kasheem was the head of the Mujahideen militancy. Within a few years, Mujahid rebels made rapid progress and banished the Arakanese villages. The Arakanese residents of Maungdaw and Buthidaung were forced to depart from their homes.

In June 1949, Burmese Government power was diminished to Sittwe township only, and Mujahideens were in control of all Northern Arakan provinces. The Government of Myanmar alleged that the Mujahideens were prompting thousands and thousands of Bengali Speaking Muslim Community people to immigrate into Arakan State from the over-populated former East Pakistan.

Indo-Aryan Rohingya Origins

The Rohingya Muslim Minority Community peoples are Indo-Aryan natives from the state of ‘Rohang’ officially known as – Rakhine (Arakan). Though they are native to Burma and ethno-linguistically related to the Indo-Aryan citizens of India and Bangladesh (as opposed to the Sino-Tibetan people in Burma). The term ‘Rohingya’ comes from Rohang, the Rohingya word for the state of Arakan, from where the Rohingya originate. Though, a section of Rohingya Muslim Minority Community historians, like Khalilur Rahma argued that the term Rohingya perhaps derived from Arabic word Rahma meaning ‘mercy’, this is unlikely. Rohingya Muslim Minority Community peoples practice Sunni Islam with elements of Sufi worship.”

The Human Rights Watch organization, Asian Research Service and other South Asian research organizations say Myanmar is a multi-religious country. Besides Rakhine province, there are Muslims in other parts of Myanmar, including Yangon (formerly Rangoon). The Mujahideen party was founded by RMC elders, who supported the Jihad movement in northern Arakan in 1946-1947. The aim of the Mujahid or Mujahideen party was to create an ‘Independent Autonomous Muslim State’ or ‘Separate Islamic Autonomous Arakan State’ in the northern part of Arakan province and RSO planned to avert the oppression of ethnic RMCs in Burma and RMCRs in Bangladesh. The faction also intended to unite ‘Rohingya Peoples of Burma & Bangladesh’, by ousting the Myanmarese armed forces through pestering and the classical strategies of revolutionary fighting.

Burmese Historians Say

Burmese historians say “The Rohingyas are Muslims from Myanmar’s Rakhine province. They are of Bengali origin, who migrated to the Arakans after the British occupation of Myanmar. But the Rohingyas trace their origin to those Bengalis, who accompanied King Naraimeikhla of Arakans, who regained his throne with the help of the Bengal sultan in 1434. Their population however rose sharply after the British occupation and they came to dominate the northern part of the Arakans state.”

“In the 1940s, they were involved in violent rioting with the Buddhist Rakhines, who see themselves as sons of the soil in Arakans. During the Second World War, the Rohingyas supported the British, while the Rakhines and Burmans sided, at least initially with the Japanese. After the War, some Rohingyas formed the Mujahid party seeking an ‘autonomous state’ in northern Arakans, but that was never granted. After Bangladesh went under military rule, President Ziaur Rehman asked his intelligence agencies to back the Rohingya insurgent groups to create an ‘Islamic State’ in northern Arakans. The Burmese military junta responded with a heavy handed operation Nagamin (Dragon King) that sought to oust the Rohingyas from the Arakans. A quarter of a million Rohingyas fled into Bangladesh to escape the atrocities unleashed during Nagamin.”

“In 1982, Myanmar enacted a new citizenship law excluding the Rohingyas from citizenship and suddenly rendering them a stateless community. Ten years later, a fresh wave of another quarter of a million Rohingyas fled into Bangladesh, looking to escape the Burmese military persecution.”

In recent years, Bangladesh has sought to send back the Rohingyas to Myanmar but neither the military junta nor the quasi-civilian regime of President Thein Sein were keen to receive them. Many believe that to disrupt the repatriation process, the Burmese military intelligence triggered the Rakhine-Rohingya riots several times this year. Hundreds have died in the riots, mostly Rohingyas. Close to 80,000 Rohingya have been forced to take shelter in makeshift camps. Many have fled to Bangladesh, where the Sheikh Hasina led Awami League Bangladesh Government is unwilling to take them because they are believed to be far too radicalised.

Meanwhile, thousands of Rohingyas have covertly migrated all over the world from Australia in the east to Saudi Arabia in west – many finding their way even to the United States (US) and United Kingdom (UK). Former BBC correspondent Subir Bhaumik, who exposed the Thai police for throwing back the Rohingyas on the high seas after taking away the motors in their leaky boats, says “The Rohingyas are perhaps the ‘most unwanted people’ anywhere in the world. Nobody wants or cares for them – not their native Myanmar, neither neighbouring countries like Bangladesh or India, nor anybody else.”

Today, they are nobody’s people in a no-man’s land, and their sorrow and plight continue endlessly.

References :

4. Thais ‘leave boat people to die’ – by Subir Bhaumik, BBC News, BBC World Service, United Kingdom, Dated 15th January, 2009.

5. Nobody’s people in a no-man’s land – by Subir Bhaumik, www.aljazeera.com, Aljazeera, Doha, Qatar, Dated 16th August, 2012.

6. Rohingyas’ Flight – by Haroon Habib, Frontline, Dated 14th-27th July, 2012.

7. Various Reports of Wikipedia or Wikileaks, Indian Coast Guard, Ministry Of Defence, Government Of India, Research Analysis Wing (RAW), Government Of India, Directorate General of Forces Intelligence, Government of Bangladesh, United Nations, World Food Programme (UNWFP), United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), United Nations (UN), etcetera.

Shib Shankar Chatterjee
Shib Shankar Chatterjee is a former BBC, The Times of India, Hindustan Times, The Statesman & The Telegraph Contributor-cum-Correspondent from Northeast India, who specializes in investigations of important issues affecting the people of South Asia, specially, India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan & Myanmar.