When Kofi Annan submitted his final report on 23 August to Aung Sun Suu Kyi, he voiced apprehension that unless rapid action was taken by the government and all sections of the society, there would be a resurgence of violence and radicalisation. Head of the consultative commission on the Rakhine state of Myanmar, Annan also feared an exacerbation of poverty.
According to Myanmar’s official version, early on 25 August morning, rebels of the Arakan Salvation Army simultaneously attacked at least 25 security outposts, leaving over 100 dead. The Rohingya rebels did not issue any statement in this regard. The media cannot enter the area and relief workers can only go there under government supervision, so it is difficult to get an accurate idea about the situation.
The mainstream media mostly depends on the statements of those who fled the area in fear of their lives. But the social media carries pictures and videos of terrible brutalities. The pictures show that alongside the security forces, many civilians are also actively involved in this violence. The problem is, there is no way to verify where and when these pictures were taken. After all, there was a similar outbreak of violence last October too. It is quite natural for the pictures of October to bear similarity with pictures taken recently. But the number of casualties reported by the government and also the large number of Rohingyas fleeing from their homes, indicate that the brutality of the security forces has escalated.
The question is, why did the situation deteriorate so fast? There now seems hardly any chance of the Rohingyas being recognised as citizens and of their rights being upheld.
The objectives of the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) are also unclear. It is not as if they want an independent state. They feel that they are being oppressed and deprived due to their Muslim identity. This makes them vulnerable to the influence of extremist Islamic groups, and perhaps even to take part in the so-called global jihad. That is the radicalisation which the Annan commission feared.
Then on the flip side, the Myanmar security forces are also well aware that such combing operations very effectively drive the Rohingyas out of Arakan. Every time they have carried out such operations, thousands of Rohingyas have fled from their homes to the borders. And Myanmar also knows well that their return to their homes is all too often caught up in a vortex of diplomacy. So the Myanmar security forces were just waiting for an excuse to carry out such an operation and 25 August handed them the chance.
On 28 August, a representative of ARSA, calling himself Abdullah, told Asia Times in an interview that the attack which they had launched had been a defensive measure. He said that they had no alternative but to resort to self-defence. He said about 25 persons, including children, had been killed in a military operation in Mongdu and Rathedong. Then when the security forces and persons of the Buddhist community lay siege to a village in Rathedong, the ARSA commanders decide to launch a counter attack. He said the Myanmar army had purposely chosen that time for the plan to divert attention away from international focus on the Annan commission report. The Myanmar government outlawed ARSA on 27 August.
The Myanmar army’s oppression of the Rohingyas is nothing new. The operation carried out last October was castigated globally. In response to three army personnel being killed, the army launched such an operation that 87 thousand refugees fled to just Bangladesh alone, according to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM). The UN Human Rights Commission termed the oppression, looting and killing of Rohingyas as crimes against humanity. Myanmar didn’t agree to any international probe into the allegations.
It is natural that there will be international pressure on Myanmar to implement the recommendations of the Annan Commission. The UN has said it is ready to assist in the implementation of the recommendations. The Kofi Annan Commission was basically set up by the Myanmar government. It was established jointly at the initiative of the Kofi Annan Foundation and the Myanmar government. There were only three foreigners in the commission, one of them being Kofi Annan himself. The remaining six were from Myanmar, representatives of the human rights commission and other civic groups. The final report does not give too much hope.
At the outset of his report, Kofi Annan said that due to special sensitive circumstances, he did not term these endangered people as Rohingyas or Bengalis. They were called Muslim. This is the biggest weakness of this commission. Under pressure of Myanmar, he changed the identity of the Rohingyas. And by terming them as ‘Muslims’, he has reinforced their version of being persecuted due to their Muslim identity. His recommendations are weak too. He speaks of quickly issuing temporary ID cards, but has not given a way out for their identity not to be forcefully recorded as Bengalis.
I am not aware whether the Bangladesh government has commented on the Annan report. Yet this needed detailed study and analysis. The Bangladesh government has been displaying repeated failure about the Rohingya problem. On the one hand, we have been giving shelter to over 100 thousand Rohingyas for decades. Yet on the other hand we are being portrayed to the world as cold-hearted persons unresponsive to a humanitarian crisis. The UN, the European Union and other international agencies are urging Bangladesh to open up its borders.
Not enough pressure has been put on the Myanmar government. We are also to blame. We see no benefit from so-called engagement, but we simply follow that path year after year. And now we have gone as far as to propose a joint operation against the Rohingya extremists.
The bottom line is, there is no one to stand by the Rohingyas. As a neighbour, this is Bangladesh’s moral responsibility to do so. But we are not coming forward. The question of their citizenship is a political one. In his words, Annan is looking for a political and economic solution to the crisis. We need to highlight the Rohingya crisis in the Arakan issue. It is not realistic to consider a military solution to the problem rather than a political one.
*Kamal Ahmed is a senior journalist and Consulting Editor of Prothom Alo.
*This piece, originally published in Prothom Alo Bangla print edition, has been rewritten in English by Ayesha Kabir, Consultant (Content) Prothom Alo English Online.