Violence has once again found its place in the state of Rakhine in Myanmar. On October 9th, a group of militants launched a coordinated attack on three border posts, killing nine police officers and wounding five. In retaliation, according to eyewitness reports, Myanmar soldiers shot several unarmed civilians the next morning.
Since then, several groups of armed civilians began aggressively calling for war. One man said, “The fighting can start now, today. The Myanmar Army tried to search for us by helicopter yesterday. They searched for us by helicopters in every part of Rakhine. We do not care about helicopters.”
A senior official, U Tin Maung Swe, said the attackers were “RSO insurgents,” referring to the Rohingya Solidarity Organization. The RSO is a small Rohingya militant group active in the 1980s and 1990s, but has since been dormant. A report in 2014 by the International Crisis Group warned that “even if the RSO is not a credible military threat, the group’s very existence could be used as an easy justification for increased discrimination against Muslims in Rakhine State.”
The attribution of the attacks to the RSO certainly pose a threat to the wider Rohingya population. The Rohingya are a Muslim minority group in Myanmar, a majority Buddhist country, described by the UN as one of the most persecuted minorities in the world. Around one million of the country’s population of fifty million identify themselves as Rohingya. Under the 1982 citizenship law, enacted by the military junta that took power through a coup in 1962, the Rohingya are not considered an official ethnic group. Members of the group are thus not considered citizens, but rather illegal immigrants.
In fact, in an effort to increase security measures after the attack, the Myanmar government has cut off access to Rakhine. Because of this, aid groups, journalists, and rights monitors have been denied the right to provide healthcare, food, and information for those currently suffering.
For example, the relief work of the United Nations World Food Program, which assists up to 70,000 people per month has been halted. This has allowed for the unrestrained displacement of 15,000 civilians, arbitrary arrests, looting of villages, and dozens of reported rape case. Despite all of this, the RSO is neither the confirmed perpetrator nor is it an official armed faction representing the entire Rohingya population. UN human rights experts are calling for probe into the attacks and investigations of all such allegations.