Rakhine-Rohingya: examining root of conflict

A year since those anti-Rohingya riots break-out in Rakhine state, one would wonder what may have been the underlying causes for such terrible conflict. On the surface, the primary cause of such an event appears to be because of politically immature Rakhine and Rohingya masses which triggered by an unfortunate event (death of Ma Thidar Htway, a Rakhine woman). Others pointed to that of Burma's new found media freedom, i.e. the access to Internet and facebook, youtube, twitters & God only knows whatnow? of web-tools&gadges, that has been fanning the flames of Rakhine-racist mobs. Few people lamented about historically hostile Rakine and Rohingya communities and that they rightly point to that of 1942 Communal Riots right up to Secessionist Mujahaden movement of 1960s. Some socio-economically aware are pointing to the lack of social and economic developments in Rakhine State, which fuelling tension within two communities. The Religious and Human Rights Oriented observers put it that the Rakine conflict is the manifestitation of anti-Muslim sentiment by Buddhist Rakinnes, along with long-held racist policies aganist Rohingya community sanctioned by the military etc.

I think all those analyses are right in their own ways. But then, I suggest we should also look at political root cause which is emerging from this situation.


When we are talking about political root cause of conflict in Rakhine State, I of course mean the 'indigenous' status of Rohingya people. As a Burman who have limited exposure to Rohingyas & Rakhines, I am still quite open-minded about this issue, but I personally do not accept that the Rohingyas are one of the indigenous people of Burma. By the way, I have written about this to one of the leading human rights activists in Australia 20 years ago, in relation to the then little known of Rohingya refugees (1993/08/05, http://www.netipr.org/uneoo/to-a-human-rights-activist ).

Some 20 odd years on, my attention had been pull back to this same issue by Rakhine State conflicts. I begun seeking more answer on this issue. In fact, the exiled-Rakhines and those of Rohingya had been debating on this issue throughout the years. Nowadays, the grass-roots activists as well as political heavy-weights from inside Burma have joined in that particular debate. You can look at, for example, 'www.scribd.com' and search with word 'rohingya'. You would see pros and cons of this very debate. [By the way, I am not particularly fond of that website because it always asks money to download documents you like; but then you can still read them online free. If you are old-enough to know the beginnings of Internet, that website works like old bulletin board service, of which everyone can post and read at will and no need to register -- bona-fide spirit of internet services].

Back to the Rakhine Conflict of 2012. Up until recently, I still wasn't quite aware that there CAN be a REAL POLITICAL ROOT CAUSE to that conflict. When I came across to this important document; and I am now in the view that ONE of the ROOTCAUSE to this conflict is POLITICAL one.

As this record stands, on 10-Feb-2012, two Rohingya MPS (U Shwe Maung[Buthidaung] and U Aung Zaw Win[Maungdaw]) wrote to the Burmese 'Human Rights Commission' about the 1982 Citizenship Laws. In that letter they just have requested the Rohingyas be given full citizenship rights (i.e. to issue Pink National Registration Cards). These MPs are to be praised about what they have done for their own community, I say. Though, in their letter wordings said, "We respectfully request the Rohingya are not foreigners and that they are of the indigenous race of Burma therefore they be issued with Nationality's Registration Card(NRC)".

In their letter (in Burmese Language), a rare and notable point being made at Para (8), in which Major-General Aung Gyi's speech giving on 8/7/1961 at the ceremony of the peace accord with the Mujahaden Rebels(translation); "We named these people living in this district (i.e. Mayyu Frontiers) as Rohingyas. Those who live in the west of this district are to be called Pakistanis and those who who live here in the east are Rohingyas. Not only on this national border of Burma&Pakistan(now Bangladesh) has a race known to settle straddling across our national boundary. For example, in our border with China and Kachin (State) the Lisu, Eikaw, Lawa tribal groups were also known to have found in China. Where we have our own Shan Ethnic(indigenous) groups, there is also 'Tai(Dai)' Shan ethnic group residing in China as well. On Burmese side of the border, there are Mons, Karen and Malay ethnic groups exists so too on the Thailand side of the border. Whereas on the Indian-Burmese border, there are Chin, Lishaw and Naga do exists. Therefore, I would like to say this sincerely. We will consider the people in the Mayyu Frontier as one of our ethnic minority groups. Therefore, you forgive (us) what we might have done wrong in the past. We would consider you (those living at this Mayyu Frontier) as one of our indigenous (better check this wording with Major Aung Gyi if he is still alive now!) groups of Burma."

My point here with this two Rohingya MPs' letter is that what they were asking for bona-fide NRC cards for Rohingyas which is entirely achievable. Then again what they were claiming for Rohingya as indigenous group of Burma may have contributed to the Rakhine state conflict. The debate on the 'indigenousness' of Rohingyas is now well-formed in exiled Rakine and Rohingya communities. These Exiles had been, at time passionately, debating about this issue throughout the decades (search for clues at scribd.com). Rakhines, for example, do not want to loose the political control of their State. Rohingyas, on the one hand, a politically marginalized community, which are trying to establish a secure and peaceful place for themselves. On the sideline, there are Burman Islamophobics who always have been un-trusting about this particular immigrant muslim community.

In the light of the letter those MPs had written to the commission, notably early 2012, it is of little doubt that Burman extremists can be un-sympathetic and the RNDP, for example, would felt threatened by such political posture. As we can see, the debate by the exiles (Rohingyas and Rakhine) about indigenous-ness of Rohingya is no-longer the case of 'exiles crying over spilled milk'. This issue has now bearing significant weight on the conflict in Rakhine State.


Whilst we can now pin-point this political factor as one of the root causes of Rakhine conflict, everyone can now move forward with caution on Rohingya issues. The Burmese Government's Official Rakhine Commission report, which still is imperfect with its omissions of facts, does contain good recommendations to improve the lives of Rohingyas. All our friends, near and far, must focus on these recommendations being implemented, especially for the stateless Rohingyas to enjoy full citizenship of Burma.

Letter of two Rohingya MPs 2012/02/10 Attached here with: