Is there a danger of radicalisation? Could Rakhine become an IS hotspot?

Robertson: These questions are somewhat premature. Of course, no one can totally discount the threat of radicalisation, especially among people enraged by the horrific actions of the Myanmar security forces. But observers are currently making all sorts of wild claims, saying that ARSA is IS-affiliated, or that they are involved with al-Qaida. It seems the counter-terror lobby wants to have another hot spot they can all postulate about. ARSA, on the other hand, have emphasised that their actions relate solely to the situation in Rakhine and they are not involved in international jihadist activities.

Police guard UN convoy carrying UN and NGO workers fleeing Maungdaw, following an attack by ARSA on 28.08.2017 (photo: Reuters/M. Ponir Hossain)
With the potential to radicalise: so far, the activities of the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) appear to have been confined to attacks on police in Rakhine State, where populations of the Muslim minority are concentrated. Of course, if Myanmar continues its scorched earth policy, it is only increasing the likelihood that those who have lost hearth and home will fight back all the harder

They say that all they aim to do is protect the Rohingya. As far as we can tell, the original ARSA attacks on 25 August were against the police force. The Myanmar government and army are saying that ARSA is a terrorist group, but they have yet to provide any information or evidence to corroborate this assertion.

Here at Human Rights Watch, we want to see an end to hostilities. Human rights monitors are needed on the ground, conducting interviews and research to find out exactly what happened. All parties must sit down together and work through the plan proposed by Kofi Annan and the Rakhine Advisory Commission. It features a lot of positive, thoughtful, forward-looking and realistic reforms that should be implemented to address the situation, especially some of the root problems. Unfortunately, the report is now being overlooked because of the violence and atrocities occurring in Rakhine state as a result of the ARSA attacks and the security forces′ offensive.

Who could help to de-escalate the situation? What role can the EU play?

Robertson: The EU and international diplomats in Rangoon and elsewhere need to be very involved in persuading the Myanmar government to show restraint and getting the government to apply pressure to the army. The situation is extremely grave: the only way forward is for the EU and others to put pressure on Aung San Suu Kyi and key people in her government to take a risk and start demanding that the military end its scorched earth campaign. The government has to stop giving the security forces a blank cheque just because the targets are Rohingya.

Interview conducted by Roma Rajpal Weiss

© 2017

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