Written by 03:02 World

In Myanmar, a New Threat for the Rohingya

International courts are still investigating the Myanmar military’s slaughter of the country’s Rohingya Muslim minority in 2017 that the United States has called a genocide. Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya fled to Bangladesh and those who stayed faced persecution from the junta. Now a new threat to the group is looming, this time at the hands of a powerful rebel force.

That force, the Arakan Army, has won control of large parts of Rakhine State in Myanmar over the past few months, most recently the northern section where many Rohingya still live. In recent days, rights groups have accused the rebels of expelling the minority from their homes and destroying their property, in many cases by arson. The Arakan Army has rejected these allegations.

The sectarian tensions underscore the complex ethnic makeup, and rivalries, of Myanmar. In Rakhine State, an impoverished strip of land in the west of the country previously known as Arakan, many ethnic Buddhist Rakhine have long sought to break away from Myanmar and its Bamar majority. They also have often disregarded the plight of another group living alongside them that was falsely rejected as interlopers from Bangladesh, and troublemakers: the Rohingya.

Formed roughly 15 years ago, the Arakan Army claims to be 40,000 people strong and has fought Myanmar’s military for years. It has grown to be among the most powerful of the various ethnic rebel armies that are allied by the joint desire to oust the junta — which staged a coup in 2021 and is now facing the biggest challenge to its rule from rebel and pro-democracy forces.

Reports of the Arakan Army mistreating the Rohingya have stirred fears of renewed atrocities, even as the junta appears increasingly weak.

“Arakan Army soldiers told us to move to a safer place, as there is intense fighting in our town and there was a risk for us. Before we could decide whether to move or not, the house caught fire,” said Aung Htay, 42, a Rohingya resident of Buthidaung, one of the biggest towns to be largely destroyed by fire. Speaking in a telephone interview, he said he did not know what caused the fires in the town, which broke out after dark.

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Last modified: 4 June 2024
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