Tatmadaw has a purpose to keep ARSA alive

Slain Rohingya leader Mohib Ullah was buried in Lambashia camp-1 in Kutupalong refugee camp in Ukhiya upazila on 30 September 2021UNB

Four years after the Tatmadaw’s (Myanmar military) genocidal crimes against Rohingyas, ARSA (Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army) is again in the media after the killing of Rohingya leader Mohib Ullah on 29 September 2021. He was a hope for the refugees to return to their homeland. Mohib Ullah collected evidence of abuses against Rohingyas in Myanmar, including mass killings and gang rapes. He shared this with international investigators.

Myanmar’s deposed State Counsellor presented the ARSA story in the International Court of Justice in Hague, “several thousand ARSA fighters attacking more than 30 police posts and villages, and an army base in northern Rakhine was to seize Maungdaw township was responsible for the situation [Myanmar military’s genocidal crimes]”. I mentioned in an article:

"The story of “several thousand ARSA fighters” is not convincing by any assessment. If “several thousand ARSA fighters” had taken part in the attack then its actual force strength should have been far more and it should have been a well-organized and strong insurgent group like those on Myanmar’s eastern and northeastern borders. And such a large insurgent group would not ‘bob up and disappear’ overnight. What she could not tell the court in fear of ‘guns smoking at home’ that the ARSA drama was an enactment of the Tatmadaw to prevent communal reconciliation in Rakhine."

('Rohingya Refugee Crisis: Developing Stories', Prothom Alo English, 13 August 2021)

Also Read

The ARSA incident of 25 August 2021 coincided with Kofi Anan Commission’s final report released on 24 August 2021. Myanmar’s Commander-in-Chief (C-in-C) Senior General Min Aung Hlaing snubbed the Commission during the meeting on 24 August 2021 for its “factually flawed and deficient report” and advised to re-examine the report for “factual errors and unfair attitudes”. He advised the Commission “to take into cognizance the attitudes of the government, the Tatmadaw and the local people”. To put it simply, the Senior General Min Aung Hlaing rejected the report.

Outside Myanmar, the military is holding the ARSA card to play in refugee camps in Bangladesh. Gang of miscreants responsible for the killing of refugee leaders identified themselves as ARSA members are opposing repatriation

Plans to nip the report in the bud began in March 2017 after civilian government’s acceptance of Kofi Anan Commission’s interim report and recommendations. The plan was to create a condition in the Rohingya dominated areas which will allow the military to intervene and drive out Rohingyas and also put communal reconciliation initiative in jeopardy.

In July 2017, Rakhine State’s Chief Minister urged the C-in-C to deploy military forces for the security of Rakhine population. Myanmar media reported force build-up. Al Jazeera online 11 August 2017 also reported arrival of army battalion to boost local security. The UN raised the alarm bell at reports of military build-up in northern Rakhine. Developing stories culminated in enacting ‘coordinated attacks’ on 25 August 2017 followed by genocidal crimes to evict Rohingyas from their ancestral abode.

On 1 September 2017, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, referring to the Allethankyaw (a fishing village in Maungdaw district) riot between Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingyas in 1942 commented that the Rakhine problem was “a long-standing one which has become an unfinished job despite the efforts of the previous [military] governments to solve it” and vowed to finish the unfinished job. According to Myanmar Now online 26 August 2021, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing was the “chief architect and perpetrator of a genocidal campaign of mass murder, rape, arson and forced displacement against the Rohingya in Rakhine State in 2017.”

The most difficult challenge for Bangladesh is refugees’ repatriation. I mentioned in another article, “Myanmar is pushing Rohingya repatriation into uncertainty” published in a national daily on 12 June 2021 that the refugee repatriation is suspected to hang on uncertainty.

In the context of developing stories preceding the ARSA incident, and the magnitude of violence in driving out Rohingyas, it was predictable that the Myanmar military’s plan was to make Rohingyas’ repatriation extremely difficult. Inside Myanmar, the military bulldozed Rohingya homes and lands rendering homesteads untraceable. The government confiscated their lands. After driving out Rohingyas, Myanmar military did not take its hands off the affair.

Outside Myanmar, the military is holding the ARSA card to play in refugee camps in Bangladesh. Gang of miscreants responsible for the killing of refugee leaders identified themselves as ARSA members are opposing repatriation. If the ARSA incident was thought to be real, then that was an act in support of military’s plan to evict Rohingyas.

Myanmar military also does not want Rohingyas to return. From this perspective, the Myanmar military is conniving with the criminal gang to terrorise refugees on the issue of repatriation and serve its purpose. Myanmar military will foster the gang of miscreants and keep it alive under ARSA banner to mislead people believing that ARSA was real in 2017. It will not be surprising if these criminal gangs are used to create a confrontational situation between local population and Rohingyas.

* Mohammad Abdur Razzak is a retired Commodore of Bangladesh Navy and a security analyst. He can be reached at [email protected].