Are the Rohingya Militants Responsible for Derailing Kofi Annan Commission’s Recommendations?
BY TRANSCEND MEMBERS, 4 September 2017
Maung Zarni – TRANSCEND Media Service
26 Aug 2017 – To start with, Annan’s report itself stressed that all the military MPs in the national parliament joined hands with the military-backed former ruling party Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) and Rakhine nationalists’ Arakan National Party attempted to officially stop the establishment of Annan Commission in the parliament. They did not succeed.
Within the past 1 year since Annan Commission was created by Aung San Suu Kyi in Sept 2017, the military and its proxies in society – such as Ma Ba Tha, anti-Muslim and anti-Rohingya monk group have pushed non-operation with it, something the final report itself noted.
Weeks before Annan Commission released its final report, the Burmese military high command was very busy, mobilizing and air-lifting hundreds of troops from Light Infantry Division 33, notorious for merciless and indiscriminate killings of civilians in any urban unrest, to Rakhine, arming and training anti-Rohingya Rakhine villagers in fire arms and fighting, blockading the predominantly Rohingya region of N. Rakhine from accessing food and jobs, and spreading fears of attacks on INGOs and UN agencies providing humanitarian assistance.
You can’t analyze Rohingya militancy and recent attacks, without taking in to account this build-up of both the government troops and militarizing and arming of hostile local Rakhine villages.
As a matter of the Burmese Commander in Chief Min Aung Hlaing’s Burmese language Facebook timeline – updated after his meeting with Kofi Annan in the morning of the day of the Final Report’s release – made it clear that the military leadership did not agree with reports’ findings. His Facebook posting said the report contained factual errors, meaning not credible.
Min Aung Hlaing also apparently attempted to deceive Kofi Annan and his commission that the Burmese troops are simply engaged in the “clearance operations” targeting only the “Bengali terrorists” in the mountain hideouts where there are hardly any innocent civilians.
Then hours later the Burmese Air Force gunship helicopters were reportedly firing rockets and bombing targeted Rohingya villages.
So, “who is terrorising whom”” is the question that needs to be confronted head on.
There is something else that needs to be called out: the mass media’s misframing of Rohingya militants as “jihadists”.
Both the realities on the ground and the media narrative covering the realities are quite skewered in favour of the perpetrating Burmese regime’s framing. It frames the militant Rohingyas as “Jihadists” – a term with a religious connotation as if Rohingyas were religiously motivated along the lines of ISIS. The leader and some rank and files may have been trained in fighting in countries like Pakistan, but their emergence is not triggered by their extremists’ interpretations of Islam. By their statements you can definitively tell that they do not want the crippling ghetto-like conditions all Rohingya communities have been forced to live in for almost 40 years.
Their goals are not creating an Islamic state in the predominantly Buddhist country, nor independence from Myanmar. They have made it clear publicly, they want simply what the rest of the public have -equality before the law, freedom to live in peace, freedom to move about so that they can work, earn a living and feed their children, recognition that they are citizens and they belong in Burma, not in Bangladesh, whatever the colonial history from 150 years ago.
The least the activists can do on the ground – or internationally – is to correct this narrative.
They are armed with machetes and farm tools, equipped with some mobile phones and use the most primitive type of explosives, which make all this reportage about Rohingyas receiving catches of AK-47s and Saudi money, citing “un-named intelligence sources” utterly non-credible. My own experience with years of dealing with intelligence officials is, I take their words with a giant grain of salt: they are simply un-trust worthy, by profession spreaders of misinformation about target groups.
The western media and government officials (and think tanks) – infested with general Islamophobia – are too quick to frame any Muslim who resists against injustices or fight back any power that subjects their communities to Hell-like conditions as “prospective Jihadist”, “jihadist” or “extremist” or “Terrorist”.
Suu Kyi’s military partners have been attempting to play this “we-are-fighting-the-war-on-terror” game since 2012. Just yesterday, Suu Kyi has just joined this band-wagon when she uses the label “terrorists” to refer to the Rohingya militants and condemns them while she has only defended her father’s army against the enormity of allegations of crimes against humanity.
Getting this record straight is one concrete thing activists and Rohingya victims themselves can do.
This is the war that Myanmar – both the army and Suu Kyi’s government – are waging against Rohingyas to further demonize and criminalise them while maintaining the ghettoized conditions on the grounds for more than 1 million Rohingyas.
You lift these conditions, and I guarantee that the Rohingya militancy will immediately stop.
For these young Rohingya men, primitively armed, are not fighting to go to Heaven as Martyrs, they are fighting back because they and their communities are sitting ducks awaiting the next round of mass slaughter.
When these young and ‘angry’ men – as UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar Professor Yangee Lee put it – fight back the mighty oppressor, Myanmar Tatmadaw, they are making a bad choice, of course, among all bad choices. Do they subject themselves to semi-slavery in the hands of human traffickers, or risk drowning in the high sea? Do they allow themselves and their families to remain in semi-famine conditions? Do they simply lie down and let themselves slaughtered by the organized gangs of racist Rakhine neighbours who want to cleanse the entire N. Rakhine of any and all Rohingya Muslims, with the full backing of the military State? Do they want for UN intervention which will never materialise?
Most everything the world is hearing about all the recent killing spree of civilians in N. Rakhine by “ski-masked gangs” and other stories framed as “terrorist activities” come from the single source: Aung San Suu Kyi’s Information Committee. Well, she has become part of the genocidal hell for Rohingyas, covering up and denying the systematic and pervasive rights violations and violence committed by her father’s army.
Finally, Annan, Western Governments (USA, France, UK, etc.) and UN office in Myanmar are too quick to condemn Rohingya militant attacks as “undermining” Kofi Annan’s peace and mediation efforts while the very same entities have held their nose on what they know to be at best crimes against humanity and at worst a full-scaled genocide in slow motion which Rohingyas have been subjected to over the last almost 40 years.
Like all previous genocidal cases, wittingly or not these external players are complicit in the verifiably systematic and pervasive attempts by Myanmar to destroy the entire ethnic community.
If there is anyone or group who deserves unequivocal condemnations for the escalation of violence and militancy in N. Rakhine its both the perpetrators and the external enablers which I mentioned above.
Even in Auschwitz and crippling ghettos, Nazi victims and inmates rose up taking as many SS Exterminators as they possibly could with them, knowing full well their eventual fate.
Should we the bystanders condemn the Nazi inmates who attempted to rise up and put the desperate violence of the oppressed on the moral parity with the systematic genocidal violence by the perpetrators?
I for one am NOT prepared to condemn violence across the board, whatever that makes me. I may or I may not choose to resort to violence or militancy were I in Rohingya situation. But I have absolutely no moral authority to condemn them as a privileged man whose family and himself live in comfort and safety.
Above all I respect the dignity and the need for self-respect of even the most wretched among us to decide their own fates, whatever their choice.
Dr. Maung Zarni is a Burmese activist blogger, Associate Fellow at the University of Malaya, a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace, Development and Environment, founder and director of the Free Burma Coalition (1995-2004), a visiting fellow (2011-13) at the Civil Society and Human Security Research Unit, London School of Economics, and a nonresident scholar with the Sleuk Rith Institute in Cambodia. His forthcoming book on Burma will be published by Yale University Press. He was educated in the US where he lived and worked for 17 years.
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