ASEAN Members Borders New Challenge: Religious & Ethnic Fights at Myanmar (Buddhist)​-Banglades​h (Muslim) preceded by Thailand (Buddhist)​-Malaysia (Muslim) — Written 06/11/2012

“Northwest Myanmar was tense on Monday after sectarian violence engulfed its largest city at the weekend, with Reuters witnessing rival mobs of Muslims and Buddhists torching houses and police firing into the air to disperse crowds.

At least seven people have been killed and many hurt, authorities say, in the worst communal violence since a reformist government replaced a military junta last year and vowed to forge unity in one of Asia’s most ethnically diverse countries.

The fighting erupted on Friday in the Rakhine State town of Maungdaw, but has spread to the capital Sittwe and nearby villages, prompting the government to declare a state of emergency late on Sunday and impose a dawn-to-dusk curfew.”

“It might also force reformist President Thein Sein, a former general, to confront an issue that human rights groups have criticized for years: the plight of thousands of stateless Rohingya Muslims who live along Myanmar’s border with Bangladesh in abject conditions and are despised by many ethnic Rakhine, members of Myanmar’s predominantly Buddhist majority.”

“An ethnic separatist insurgency is taking place in Southern Thailand, predominantly in the Malay Pattani region, made up of the three southernmost provinces of Thailand. Violence has increasingly spilling over into other provinces. Although separatist violence has occurred for decades in the region, the campaign escalated in 2004.”

“In July 2005, Thaksin Shinawatra, then Prime Minister of Thailand, assumed wide-ranging emergency powers to deal with the insurgency. In September 2006, Army Commander Sonthi Boonyaratkalin was granted an extraordinary increase in executive powers to combat the unrest.

Soon afterwards, on 19 September 2006, Sonthi and a military junta ousted Thaksin in a coup. Despite conciliatory gestures from the junta, the insurgency continued and intensified. The death toll, 1,400 at the time of the coup, increased to 2,579 by mid-September 2007.

Despite little progress in curbing the violence, the junta declared that security was improving and that peace would come to the region by 2008. The death toll surpassed 3,000 in March 2008. During the Democrat-led government of Abhisit Vejjajiva, Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya noted a “sense of optimism” and said that he was confident of bringing peace in to the region within 2010.[9] By the end of 2010, insurgency-related violence had increased, confounding the government’s optimism. Finally in March 2011, the government conceded that violence was increasing and could not be solved in a few months.”

“Thailand’s war against minority Islamist guerrillas in the south, which killed more than 5,000 people during the past eight years, could escalate into an international security crisis similar to Yemen or Afghanistan, Britain’s ambassador said.”

“The Islamist separatists’ hit-and-run war is mostly confined to the three southern provinces of Narathiwat, Pattani, and Yala where Muslims form 94 percent of the population along Thailand’s mountainous border with Muslim-majority Malaysia.

The Buddhist kingdom of Thailand annexed the region more than 100 years ago, but a new generation of Muslim militants have renewed a decades-long, smoldering fight for its autonomy or to carve out an independent nation to be called Pattani.”

” Thailand’s ethnic Malay separatists “are organized into small, relatively organic cells throughout the Malay-speaking south. They live among the people, in town and city, and they enjoy a great deal of support and sympathy from the local Malay Muslims,” the Pattani Forum said.

In September, London-based Amnesty International said the Islamist rebels “have committed — and are continuing to commit — what amount to acts aimed at spreading terror among the civilian population, and which constitute war crimes.”

That same month, Brad Adams, the Asia director at New York-based Human Rights Watch denounced the insurgents’ frequent campaign of bombing public targets such as nightclubs, hotels and elsewhere and described such tactics as “not armed struggle, but a sickening crime.”

The “separatist insurgents in the loose network of National Revolution Front-Coordinate (BRN-Coordinate), have suffered setbacks from security sweeps, but still maintain a presence in hundreds of ethnic Malay Muslim villages in southern Thailand,” Human Rights Watch said.”

“How does the government of Myanmar justify the oppression directed against this community? The very word ‘Rohingya’ is unmentionable in the government circles of Myanmar. Before detailing on the status of the Rohingyas in Myanmar, it should be mentioned that all of Myanmar’s population is colour coded, i.e. they have been issued with identity cards by the authorities, and respective colours are used to describe their status in Myanmar. Pink is used to describe those who are full citizens, blue for associate citizens, green for naturalised citizens and white for foreigners. As the identity cards were issued, the Rohingyas were informed that they do not fall under any of these categories; they are not even ‘white’ but ‘Myanmar residents’, an illegal status. Mostly, they have been described as ‘illegal immigrants from Bangladesh’.”

“So how did the Rohingyas become illegal immigrants in their home country? While there is some truth to the opinion of the authorities that Rohingyas are Bengali Muslims who have migrated to the Arakan during the British colonial era, the fact that the forefathers of present day Rohingyas have existed long before the arrival of even the Burmese invaders is indisputable.”

“The military junta once in power began to follow a policy of ‘divide and rule’, trying to drive a wedge between the Rohingyas and Rakhines, so as to ensure that the century old Arakan freedom movement does not turn into a threatening force. The military junta has been fighting ethnic insurgencies on almost all its frontiers. Naturally they are wary of a united front represented by the Rohingyas and Rakhines that can threaten the status quo of Arakan, a region separated from the rest of the country by unfriendly terrain. As Rohingya settlements are concentrated on the border region, there has always been a sense of unease among the authorities that it will be easier for this community to smuggle in arms and ammunition in the event of a conflict in the Arakan. This is another reason why the military has been consistent in denying the Rohingyas any chance of a decent existence in Myanmar. ”

“The primary factor that has led the Rohingyas to suffer is their religion, Islam. The military junta relies heavily on Theravada Buddhism for their acceptability and has devised and implemented policy aimed at persecuting religious minorities, especially the Muslims. All Muslim communities in Myanmar have been subjected to gross violation of human rights without exception.”

“Burma’s large and much feared military intelligence service, the Directorate of Defense Security Intelligence, is commonly believed to have agents working within networks of Burmese monks. These so-called Buddhist Monks have involved themselves in deadly riots against the country’s Muslim population. It is worth mentioning that most Buddhist monks, a people known for their commitment to peace and tolerance, have opposed the bloody pogrom perpetuated by the regime’s monks.”

“The Rohingyas, with their distinct South Asian physical appearance, have been more vulnerable than the other Muslim communities of Myanmar.

Arbitrary killings, rape, property confiscation, theft and so on, perpetuated by the authorities in cohort with local miscreants, are widespread. The phenomenon, very common since the military junta took over in 1962, can be described as ‘slow burning genocide’, devised to escape international attention but quietly and gradually achieving the ultimate intention — complete ethnic cleansing and/or driving the Rohingyas into Bangladesh.”

“Having counted on the democracy movement spearheaded by NLD to rescue them from their plight, the reality is gradually descending on the desperate Rohingyas. They can expect little from neighbouring Bangladesh, where the vast majority of refugees spend their lives in squalid huts, deprived of any opportunity for a decent survival. Western nations are apprehensive of advocating for the rights of a Muslim minority and in any case, the last year has witnessed a change in the attitudes on their part as they seek to counter balance China’s influence in the country and seek to tap into Myanmar’s vast natural resources. Unlike the Palestinians, the Rohingya plight has not received attention in the Muslim world, and the two powerful Islamic countries of South East Asia — Indonesia and Malaysia — have chosen to ignore the plight of the Rohingyas in the interest of economic development. For the time being, the Rohingyas — and the other Muslim communities of Myanmar — are on their own.”

“Most of the country’s minority ethnic groups live in the Chittagong Hills Tracts, a narrow strip of land in southeastern Bangladesh near the orders with India and Myanmar. The people who live here are indigenous non-Muslim tribes, separate from the Bengalis who


occupy 98% of the country. Two of the main tribes are the Chakma


and the Marma. The Chakma live in the Karnaphuli River valleys of


Chittagong. The Marma, Buddhists, also live in the Chittagong Hills


region. Both tribes speak Arakanese, their primary language.

57, 58

Other tribal peoples who live in the Chittagong Hills Tracts are also


Buddhist, some related to the people of Myanmar. All combined,


they comprise 12 language groups. Many tribal members have rebelled against an influx


of Muslim Bengalis trying to settle in the region. Periodic violence that stems from the

ongoing ethnic tension has marked the region since the mid-1970s.”


“Another minority ethnic group in Bangladesh includes a number of non-Bengali Muslims


(Biharis) who speak Urdu. They originally migrated to East Pakistan (now Bangladesh)


from India after the subcontinent was partitioned in 1947.

60 Many remain stateless, forced

to live in camps across the country and still referred to as Pakistanis by the



61 Many others, however, have acquired citizenship in Bangladesh.

Bangla (also called Bengali) is the national language of Bangladesh. A total of 39

languages are spoken in the country, however, mainly among small tribes who populate


the Chittagong Hills Tracts. Approximately 530,000 people speak languages classified as


Tibeto-Burman found in this southeastern area. Specific languages include Arakanese

and Burmese, both belonging to this language division.”


“Although democracy in Bangladesh has been re-established, governance remains weak


and is marred by a lack of structure to support meaningful opposition. Elections have


been repeatedly marked by violence and disruption, including boycotting and strikes by


opposition groups of the main political parties. Infighting has been ongoing among the


major political parties include the longstanding Awami League, the Bangladesh


Nationalist Party (BNP), and the Jatiya Party. The country has been further destabilized


by rebellious tribal elements in the Chittagong Hill Tracts who want autonomous rule.


Political tension increased when an Islamist group called Jamiatul Mujahideen,


Bangladesh (JMB) demanded that the government institute Shari’a law in place of the


secular legal system. To publicize their demand, they bombed government buildings in


most of the country’s districts on 17 August 2005. They followed this with attacks on


judicial employees, killing a total of 28 lawyers, judges, and police officers. The


government responded by arresting hundreds of people and harshly sentencing those


found responsible.”




“As of late 2007, the political turmoil has continued in Bangladesh. In January 2007, the


Awami League announced its plans to boycott upcoming parliamentary elections. They


also planned to organize transportation blockades and general strikes throughout the


country. A few days later, President Iajuddin Ahmed declared a state of emergency,


postponed elections, and suspended many constitutional rights held by citizens. The

government claims that elections will be held in late 2008.”


“Bangladesh is one of the world’s poorest countries. It is severely overpopulated, which


contributes to the nation’s poverty. Other contributors are the inefficiency of its many


state-owned enterprises that were nationalized after independence and its chaotic


regulatory environment. By increasing imports and domestic production, the country has


made progress in meeting nutritional needs, although an estimated 10–15% of the


population is at nutritional risk. The rich agricultural land and


abundant supply of water are resources that hold promise for future


gains. Still, lack of development, infrastructure, and an industrial

base has held back growth in general.”


At closer range, religion seems more of a pretext than a real explanation to ethnic bloody clashes.

Economic and cultural survival seem a more plausible explanation, like in most other parts of the world……..




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