By Satuk Bugra Kutlugun
A group representing Rohingya in Europe claims Myanmar's army manipulated members of the Muslim minority into taking part in an act of violence in which nine police officers were killed so the state could legitimize an ongoing clampdown.
The chairman of the European Rohingya Council (ERC) says around 400 Rohingya have been killed since the Oct. 9 attacks, women raped and houses and mosques destroyed -- acts which he says stem from a growing frustration among Rohingya with the poverty and lack of legal recognition they face, and the initial entrapment.
"Obsolete weapons were sold by police to Rohingya youngsters, who attacked the police post because they thought they could get international attention or save their oppressed people," Khairul Amin told Anadolu Agency.
"The police, military had knowledge what would happen when these people got these weapons, so we can say they set them up to be attacked."
He says that in the subsequent military clampdown, more than 2,500 houses, mosques and religious schools were razed, three villages completely wiped out and 400 people killed -- "although thousands who fled the attacks are still unaccounted for".
"More than 30,000 people have been left homeless. Men and adults are hiding in the jungle, in paddy fields and mountains, and trying to flee across the border into Bangladesh, and women and children are left in [what is left of] their homes," Amin says.
"They [the military] wanted to wipe them out, therefore they used helicopter gunships on them; they wanted to show the world that there are militants or terrorists at work in Myanmar, and by arming the Rohingya it gave them license to carry out this operation.
"We got information from our sources that people are dying everyday because of hunger, because of bullet wounds and many other types of wounds. They do not have any opportunity at all to get healthcare, or medicine."
Since Oct. 9, the government has claimed that the group that carried out the attack was not from Myanmar, and then that confessions from Rohingya who participated show they only did so under threat of death from outsiders from neighboring Bangladesh.
Amin says such statements "just aren't true".
"The people who attacked the police post were the Rohingya residents... The people living under oppression in Arakan [Rakhine] State. By arming them, the military encouraged them to attack the police post so it could use this as a pretext to launch atrocities against Rohingya,” he says.
Likewise, the government has also claimed that destruction of homes was carried out by Rohingya to elicit international sympathy.
"There is no truth in what the government is saying," says Amin. "Nobody with any common sense will burn down their own property, starve to death living and sleeping in paddy fields just to evoke sympathy. What more sympathy will it get them? Globally, people are already sympathetic to their [the Rohingya] cause.”
Myanmar has said that since Oct. 9, 86 people -- 17 soldiers and 69 alleged "attackers" -- have been killed, and property destroyed in the area -- a figure vastly different to that quoted by Rohingya groups such as the ERC.
The efforts by the government to spin a different narrative have led humanitarian groups to call for an external independent probe into the initial deaths and subsequent attacks in an area that has since been sealed to anyone bar the military -- a cry that the government has so far ignored.
It has, however, announced that a national-level investigation commission will soon be formed to probe the ongoing attacks.
“The commission will submit a report based on its findings in the investigation and will also give suggestions for the prevention of such kind of attacks in the future,” state media reported last week.
Since Aung San Suu Kyi's party won the Nov. 8 election -- subsequently becoming the country's first fully democratically elected government in 50 years -- she has been placed under tremendous international pressure to solve problems faced by Rohingya, but has had to play a careful balancing act for fear of upsetting the country's nationalists, many of whom have accused Muslims of trying to eradicate the country's Buddhist traditions.
The situation has been complicated by the division of resources in impoverished yet underdeveloped Rakhine -- which the military has long sought to control -- and efforts to resolve historic ethnic differences countrywide.
Myanmar currently grants official statehood to 135 distinct ethnic groups (grouped into eight "major national ethnic races") but nationalists -- stirred by anti-Muslim campaigners such as the Committee to Protect Race and Religion (Ma Ba Tha) -- are afraid that by including the Rohingya, it would give them legal access to the resources.
Amin is blunt on who he thinks most stands to benefit from eradicating Rohingya from the area -- the people he accuses of supplying the guns.
"The military want to cleanse Rohingya so they can establish authority and get to the natural resources," he claims.
"After the government was formed by Aung San Suu Kyi, the military requested authority over Arakan. Suu Kyi rejected their request so they are trying to handle this issue in another way."
Mohamed Ibrahim, the ERC's general secretary, has long urged lawmakers to rethink plans to house an industrial park, the SEZ project, in Rakhine before addressing the rights of the region's Rohingya minority, along with opportunities and compensation for other local people.
"Rohingya will not benefit from this development because Rohingya are not yet recognized as a minority or citizens by the current government, and [there is] no sign of recognition for Rohingya as citizens by the incoming government," he said in January, prior to Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy taking up its post.
The SEZ project -- planned to spread across three Rakhine townships -- was first announced in September 2013 and bidding closed in November 2014.
Partners in the project from China -- one of the few business partners previous juntas maintained in the region -- had been eager to see the project approved before the new government took power in March 2016.
Ambia Perveen, the ERC’s secretary for advocacy, has said that although the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) -- to which Myanmar belongs -- has made promises to help the Rohingya, little has actually been done to conquer the true problem -- the economic greed of the previous military-affiliated administration and its foreign allies.
In Sunday's interview, Amin underlined that the ongoing crisis in Rakhine once again illustrates that Suu Kyi's government has little control over the military, saying she continues to "dance to the military’s tune".
"Not only in Arakan, but everywhere," he says. "She does not have any power, but she does not want to admit that. If she had admitted it, then she could have received support from the international community, but she does not want to lose face and the international feel-good factor that the country is moving forward."
He claims that the military are simply using Suu Kyi and the democracy she represents to get the international community to drop the sanctions and boycotts which for years left the country a pariah state.
With the situation in Rakhine showing little sign of improving, Amin says that Rohingya are continuing to flee across the border into Bangladesh in search of sanctuary.
"More than 10,000 Rohingya have already crossed, but the Bangladesh government is now turning them back. On Tuesday, we heard that more than 400 were sent back to Myanmar by boat," he says.
"They were crying. This is heartbreaking. As far as I know, more than 10,000 crossed to Bangladesh and more than 1,000 were pushed back."
A law passed in Myanmar in 1982 denied Rohingya -- many of whom have lived in Myanmar for generations -- citizenship, making them legally stateless.
Some 100,000 have been displaced in camps since mid-2012 after communal violence broke out in Rakhine between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya.
The violence left around 57 Muslims and 31 Buddhists dead and more than 2,500 houses razed -- most of which belonged to Rohingya.
Amin asserts that responsibility for the Oct. 9 attacks lie with the Myanmar military.
“But if Myanmar governments had not carried out [and encouraged] the atrocities and human rights violations against Rohingya that the world has come to know, nobody would have taken up arms or carried out the [Oct. 9] attack in this way," he says.
"I want to say to the international community, ‘Please try to protect us. Support us so we don't have to try and violently defend ourselves again'."
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