Rohingya violence may help recruit extremists
DHAKA, Sept 10, (Agencies): Bangladeshi security forces were on alert for attempts by homegrown Islamist militants to use the violence against Rohingya Muslims in neighbouring Myanmar to recruit new fighters, a top official said Saturday. Nearly 300,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled Myanmar’s Rakhine state for Muslimdominated Bangladesh in the 15 days since the latest fighting erupted, according to the United Nations. Many of those have arrived with harrowing accounts of deaths and rapes at the hands of Myanmar troops and Buddhist militias.
Images purportedly showing atrocities against the Rohingya have flooded Bangladeshi social media, triggering an outpouring of sympathy among locals, who have historical ties with the community. Monirul Islam, the head of Dhaka’s police counter-terrorism unit, said forces were on the lookout for any efforts to use the violence against Rohingyas to rally homegrown extremists. “We have taken appropriate surveillance measures and are on alert against the move by the inactive militants to draw inspiration from this (violence against Rohingya) or use it for recruitment purposes,” he told reporters. Bangladesh has a history of homegrown extremist groups, including those who fought alongside the Mujahideen in Afghanistan against the Russians before returning home to form their own groups.
Officials said they were particularly concerned that some of the homegrown groups would recruit students from the thousands of Islamic seminaries in the country to fight for the rights of the Rohingya. “But we are all on alert so that no quarters can create disorder by exploiting the humanitarian crisis in Myanmar,” he said. Several fringe Islamist leaders have already issued calls to arm Rohingya refugees and help liberate Arakan, the Bengali name for Rakhine. Meanwhile, Rohingya militants in Myanmar, whose raids sparked an army crackdown that has seen nearly 300,000 Muslim Rohingya flee to Bangladesh, on Sunday declared a unilateral ceasefire but the government declared it would not negotiate with “terrorists”.
The United Nations said 294,000 bedraggled and exhausted Rohingya refugees have arrived in Bangladesh since the militants’ attacks on Myanmar security forces in neighbouring Rakhine state on Aug 25 sparked a major military backlash. Tens of thousands more are believed to be on the move inside Rakhine after more than a fortnight without shelter, food and water.
“The Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) hereby declares a temporary cessation of offensive military operations,” the group said in a statement on its Twitter account. It urged “all humanitarian actors” to resume aid delivery to “all victims of humanitarian crisis irrespective of ethnic or religious background” during the one-month ceasefire until October 9.
In addition to Rohingya, some 27,000 ethnic Rakhine Buddhists as well as Hindus have also fled violence in the northern part of Rakhine state. ARSA called on Myanmar to “reciprocate this humanitarian pause” in fighting. Myanmar, which has previously labelled ARSA as “terrorists”, appeared to reject the overture. “We have no policy to negotiate with terrorists,” Zaw Htay, a senior government spokesman, tweeted late Sunday. Aung San Suu Kyi’s government has come in for strong international criticism over the military’s treatment of the Rohingya — including the alleged laying of mines along the border to prevent those who fled from returning. Three Rohingya are reported to have been killed by a mine and others including children have been injured. Mainly Buddhist Myanmar does not recognise its stateless Muslim Rohingya community, labelling them “Bengalis” — illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
Rohingya refugees say the army operations against ARSA led to mass killing of civilians and the burning of hundreds of villages, sending them across the border. International aid programmes in Rakhine have been severely curtailed, as the fighting tore through parts of the state. India’s foreign ministry called for an immediate end to the violence, urging the situation “be handled with restraint and maturity”. In related news, several more villages were burned down on Saturday in a part of northwest Myanmar where many Rohingya Muslims had been sheltering from violence sweeping the area, two sources monitoring the situation said. Meanwhile, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan Sunday urged Muslim countries to “use every means available” to stop the “cruelty” perpetrated against Myanmar’s Rohingya. “We want to work with the governments of Myanmar and Bangladesh to prevent the humanitarian plight in the region,” he told the opening session of an Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) summit in the Kazakh capital Astana. Erdogan said Turkey had offered aid and said he expected that Bangladesh authorities admit and help Rohingya Muslims fleeing the violence in Myanmar. “International organizations, and we as Muslim countries in particular, should fight together by using every means available to stop that cruelty,” he said. Erdogan had previously promised to raise the Rohingya issue at the annual meeting of UN General Assembly later this month.