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Sectarian clashes could fuel fresh Rohingya militancy
Publication Date : 31-07-2012
Security situation in Myanmar's Rakhine state very volatile, says observer
As tension continues in Myanmar's northern Rakhine state, regional security and intelligence sources are worried that it could sow the seeds of fresh Rohingya militancy.
Sectarian violence between local Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims claimed at least 78 lives in Rakhine last month. Some 90,000 people have been displaced by the violence which started after a Buddhist woman was allegedly raped by Muslim men.
From the security perspective, "it is a very volatile situation", said a foreign diplomat in Yangon who is tracking the Rakhine state issue closely.
Asking not to be named, he said on the phone there were worries across the region that funds and support from overseas Islamic groups to Rohingya groups could "snowball into something larger".
Myanmar has an estimated 800,000 Rohingyas. They have lived in the state for generations but are considered to be foreigners by the government, while many citizens see them as illegal immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh and view them with hostility.
Commonly referred to as Bengalis, they do not figure on the country's official list of more than 130 ethnicities, and have been discriminated against for decades.
Rohingya militancy in the 1980s-1990s was short lived. Unconfirmed reports last month said two Rohingya refugees detained by Bangladesh security agencies last month had links with the Bangladesh branch of the banned radical group Jamiat- ul-Mujahideen.
Bangladeshi security agencies had in the past moved against Rohingya organisations, and Bangladesh intelligence agencies are concerned that militant Rohingyas using Bangladesh as a safe refuge would sour relations with Myanmar.
After the recent violence, Pakistani Taleban sought to present itself as a defender of Muslim men and women in Myanmar, saying "we will take revenge of your blood".
Hizbollah and Afghan Taleban have also expressed support for the ethnic group.
Government officials from neighbouring India to Myanmar are likely fearful that radical Islamic groups may exploit the Rohingya situation for their own ends, according to a report in International Business Times.
The foreign diplomat who spoke to The Straits Times said: "The situation needs constant attention."
The United Nations views the Rohingyas as one of the most persecuted minority groups in the world.
Myanmar's Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin yesterday rejected accusations of abuse of the Rohingyas by security forces. At a media conference in Yangon attended by UN Special Rapporteur Tomas Ojea Quintana, he said the government had exercised "maximum restraint" in Rakhine.
"Myanmar strongly rejects the accusations... that abuses and excessive use of force were made by the authorities in dealing with the situation," he said, accusing some quarters of trying to internationalise the situation as a religious issue.
Quintana, who is on a week-long visit to Myanmar at the invitation of the government, plans to visit Rakhine today.
Myanmar President Thein Sein had said that only a third generation descended from those who came into the country before its independence in 1948 are recognised as citizens.
He also said the Rohingyas should be repatriated to another country.
But hundreds of thousands of them would not have requisite paperwork. Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has also disappointed some rights campaigners by not offering stronger support to them.