ASEAN Beat

Latest Violence in Myanmar Confirms Worst Suspicions

Continued conflict suggests a long road ahead for vulnerable populations in the country.

Luke Hunt
Latest Violence in Myanmar Confirms Worst Suspicions
Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Earlier this month, a new round of reports began surfacing suggesting that people were fleeing escalating violence in Myanmar’s southern Chin state and Rakhine state because of a deteriorating security situation. The reports once again spotlighted the ongoing worst suspicions about how peace and conflict issues are being addressed in Myanmar under the government of Aung San Suu Kyi.

Though Myanmar has long had a history of difficulties in forging peace among diverse ethnic groups and addressing deeply rooted issues of identity, in some cases the situation has deteriorated significantly. Of particular note is the tragic plight of the Rohingya issue, which continues in spite of years of international outrage.

The situation, if anything, appears to continue to be dire. The violence in north Rakhine state, from where 730,000 people have fled, continues. The army recently said 13 ethnic Rakhine fighters were killed in attacks last month, which were launched after deadly strikes on police posts blamed on the Arakan Army (AA), which is fighting for greater autonomy for ethnic Rakhine Buddhists.

More than 130 people were forced to flee across the border due to the deteriorating situation, prompting Bangladesh to summon Myanmar’s ambassador in protest over the latest arrivals, with a further 5,000 people displaced since early December in Rakhine and Chin states.

Recent missions to Cox’s Bazar – journalists, NGO staffers, and diplomats among them – have only confirmed the dire situation for the million-odd Rohingya refugees and Bangladeshis stranded in Cox’s Bazar.

Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi has directly said that much more money is needed – around $920 million – to meet the needs of more than a million Rohingya refugees and vulnerable Bangladeshis. The clock is ticking: when the rainy season emerges, the prospects look still bleaker.

At the very least, the international outrage with respect to the situation is continuing. In addition to reporting provided by UN agencies and other humanitarian and rights groups, the United Nations also appears to continue to move forward on its investigations into the Rohingya crackdown, including its own role and presence in Myanmar.

But more than words is required. Aung San Suu Kyi and her government need to live up to their promises to provide a secure and dignified atmosphere for the Rohingyas’ return. Privately, many of those advocating safe passage and a secure home in Rakhine for the Rohingyas believe this improbable. As UN special envoy Angelina Jolie recently and bluntly said: “They have been denied their most basic human right: citizenship in their country of birth. And some still won’t even call the Rohingya by their rightful name.”

But Suu Kyi and her government continue to maintain an indignant self-righteousness. This was underscored by the latest violence and Suu Kyi’s chiding of investors and a world focused, as she put it, “narrowly on negative” aspects of her government, particularly in Rakhine state where several generals have already been cited for genocide by the United Nations.

To be sure, a solution will require more than just the Myanmar government. There needs to be a settlement with Bangladesh that is meaningful and sustainable, and third countries need to play a role in accepting them as well. In particular, ASEAN countries that are speaking out more, like Indonesia and Malaysia, ought to be acting more as well and taking a more aggressive role in seeking to resolve this.

But the buck ultimately stops with Suu Kyi. If there is to be any end to Myanmar’s violence, she needs to invest more in defending vulnerable populations, including the Rohingyas, rather than just defending herself and her government.

Luke Hunt can be followed on Twitter @lukeanthonyhunt.