first published on September 9, 2017 by Sean
Tensions boil over in Myanmar as Government forces and the growing Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) clash. Over 250,00 refugees have poured into neighboring Bangladesh, and a thousand casualties have been reported as the conflict escalates.
Over the last several weeks tensions between the neoteric democratic government of Myanmar and Islamic ethnic minorities known as the Rohingya, has resulted in an escalating conflict and even in charges of alleged genocide. The recent hostilities began in late August as a Myanmar military crackdown in the largely Muslim region was met by a large coordinated attack by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army. This attack killed between 25 and 30 policemen and soldiers in two towns and a military base in northern Rakhine. The Myanmar military subsequently labeled ARSA a terrorist organization and stepped up operations against the insurgents, attempting to gain control of the region.
After several weeks of hostilities, over a quarter of a million refugees have fled to neighboring and religiously similar Bangladesh, straining the poor nations resources. The UN has even made claims that the Myanmar forces have committed “crimes against humanity” and have been refusing visas to UN inspectors. The nation’s leader, Aung San Suu Kyi a Nobel peace prize recipient and long-term adversary of Myanmar’s former Military Junta, has drawn international condemnation at the recent increase of violence and military’s apparent abuses.
Myanmar was ruled by a Military Junta from 1962-2011, brutally suppressing political opposition and ineptly running the country’s economy. With a number of civil wars and continual political strife plaguing the nation, the Military government was finally dissolved in 2011. It would take four years before credible elections would sweep democracy into parliamentary power. However, due to a law put in place by the military prior to its abdication, Aung San Suu Kyi would be barred from being elected to the presidency. Undeterred, the new parliament would elect Htin Kyaw as the nation’s president. He then immediately created a new governmental position called the State Counsellor, which ironically, the long-time champion of democracy Suu Kyi would assume. Effectively conceding power and allowing Suu Kyi to assume control of the government.
With Islamic insurgencies on the rise in Asia, the emergence of a new group is always concerning. Though civil war and ethnic tensions in Myanmar is nothing new, this recent surge of violence brings groups like ARSA onto the international stage. The conflict has displaced hundreds of thousands, creating refugee camps in neighboring Bangladesh. Oppressive conditions like these often turn refugee camps into breading grounds for insurgencies; easily leading to an international terrorist organization such as the Islamic State or Al-Qaeda opening communication or logistical lines through the Philippines or Indonesia. With this checkered past, its emergent government, and a growing insurgency, Myanmar has the potential to become one of Asia’s chief security concerns in the coming months.