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Rohingya are being used as ‘cannon fodder’

06 June 2024


A still taken from a video, provided by a displaced Rohingya, of the flames from burning houses in the town of Buthidaung in Rakhine state, Myanmar

A still taken from a video, provided by a displaced Rohingya, of the flames from burning houses in the town of Buthidaung in Rakhine state, Myanmar

THOUSANDS of Rohingya men are being forced to fight alongside the Myanmar military, which, seven years ago, drove hundreds of thousands of their community from their homes, it has emerged.

Reports from Rohingya organisations say that members of the military junta are forcibly conscripting young men to fight alongside them against the Arakan Army — one of several rebel groups which are fighting the military since it took power in a coup in 2021.

The Arakan Army says that it is fighting for autonomy for the ethnic population in Rakhine State, which is home to about 600,000 Rohingya people, after hundreds of thousands fled to Bangladesh following the crackdown in 2017. The news agency AFP reports that some men in the Cox’s Bazar refugee camp, in Bangladesh, have also been recruited by the armed rebel groups, meaning that members of the Rohingya are now fighting on both sides of the conflict.

A joint statement issued by Rohingya organisations overseas, including the British Rohingya Commmunity, said that the remaining members of the Rohingya community in Rakhine State faced an “existential threat”. Conscripts were being used as “cannon fodder”, the statement said.

Tens of thousands have been forced to leave their homes. On 17 May, the Arakan Army set light to homes in the majority-Rohingya Buthidaung township.

The joint statement said: “Once again, hundreds of thousands of Rohingya are fleeing for their lives. Once again, the international community was warned about what would happen and failed to act. Now is not the time to hide behind claims that it is not clear what is going on, or how complex the situation is.”

It said there had been “credible but as yet unverified reports of mass killing and mass abductions of Rohingya civilians, arson attacks and forced displacement of numerous villages”.

The organisations said that they rejected claims by breakaway groups — including the Arakan Rohingya Army, and Rohingya Solidarity Organisation — to represent Rohingya communities.

They pleaded: “We want to live side by side in peaceful co-existence with the Rakhine and other diverse ethnic and religious communities, on equal terms, rooted in dignity and respect for our Rohingya identity. We want a seat at the table, not a separate state.”

They urged the Arakan Army not to fall into the trap set by the military junta to pit ethnic Rakhine against Rohingya. “Only the military regime will benefit from this,” they said.

Rakhine State — formerly known as Arakan — is home to a majority-ethnic Rakhine population, who are largely Buddhist. The Rohingya community are Muslim.

The UN human-rights office, the OHCHR, said that it had received “frightening and disturbing reports” of the conflict. It said that it believed that Buthidaung township has been largely burned to the ground, with dozens of dead bodies left on the ground. Tens of thousands of Rohingya have been displaced.

The UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar, Tom Andrews, said in a statement that the international community must respond immediately: “Thousands of innocent lives will be lost if the international community fails to respond to ominous signs of another Rohingya bloodbath in Rakhine state.”

A genocide case has been lodged against Myanmar for its 2017 purge of Rohingya Muslims (News, 6 October 2017), at the International Court of Justice, supported by the UK.

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