Profiling Rohingya flight of 1978, Case of Ulla Meah and Sultan Ahmed

With regards to the 1978 Operation Dragon King, there were a lot to learn about what happened to those who fled Burma. With all probability, ordinary people like Ulla Meah might have been heading back to Arakan when the dust had settled. However, Mr. Sultan Ahmed, the President of Jamiatul-Ulema, former MP and Parliamentary Secretary during AFPFL era, stayed on exile and died of old age in Bangladesh. Sultan Ahmed was already in his 80s when he fled Burma; why had he choose to flee Bangladesh? Was there any threat on him -- direct or implied? We would have no way of knowing.

There had been reports of sabotage, or community defiance, against the immigration checks in Arakan during the early part of 1978 Operation. Those who do not have ID papers -- about half million Bangaldeshi/Pakistanis at that time -- may necessarily evade immigration checks, with the locals assisting them hiding. It'll be cat & mouse game by the immigration and local Bengalis. In the end, Burmese army intervened. The information on community resistance to immigration checks, only the people within Rohingya/Bengali community will know.

Not widely reported by the media, also, is how that refugee crisis had ended. The refugees reportedly had resisted the pressure to return to Arakan. The Bangladesh Government, along with UNHCR, had then cut-off supplies to the refugees. The Newhampshire Paper reported clashes between refugees resisting repatriation and the Bangladesh police. Finally, the refugees returned, but not before thousands of the weak and children died from starvation. Whether there were attempts to manipulate refugees by political groups was also unknown. All these details are sketchy for the outsiders, only Rohingya/Bengali community will know.

In all these cases, we need to look at a central character like Sultan Ahmed. Despite being articulate, educated and experienced, Sultan Ahmed may be marginalised from the senior public servant post after 1962. With this kind of political intellect, Ahmed would know full well about what the Burmese nationalists of 1930-40 were up to. Not in a doubt, Sultan Ahmad was unhappy with an independent Burma. Ever entertains grudge on those Burmese Nationalist Thakhins who took 'HIS' British Empire away from him, Ahmed kept insisting his whole life that there were never Bengali immigrants in Arakan. Sultan Ahmed was persistent in his views and position. So too were the Burmese nationalists who will never seek to accommodate his views. Those seeds of political discontent still cursed upon today Burma and that of Rohingya community.

The bios of late President of Jamiatul-Ulema is attached below; courtesy ARNO.

In Solidarity, U Ne Oo.

From: Derek Tonkin (

Assuming that the report is fact and not fiction, the son and daughter might have been the elder children who were required to have IDs from the age of 14 (I believe), while the younger children did not. Possibly they had not been issued with IDs as they should have been. Not their fault.

The reason they left might well be related to the “mass hysteria” reported by the US Ambassador “UNDP DIRECTOR ZAGORIN (PLEASE PROTECT) TOLD THE AMBASSADOR THAT THE REFUGEES WERE IN A STATE OF SEVERE SHOCK AND APPEARED TO HAVE LEFT BURMA AS A RESULT OF A "MASS HYSTERIA" WHICH CAUSED VIRTUALLY WHOLE VILLAGES TO FLEE." (9 May 1978). There is also evidence of “instigation” by those with their own agenda, reported by the British Ambassador.

Assuming the son and daughter were of an age that they could look after themselves, and given other pressures to flee, Ulla Meah might have concluded that it was the best thing to do, in the circumstances.



Understanding the past can pave the way for future solutions; that's certainly my view regarding the Bengali/Rohingya issues. I am digging up on some archives regarding the infamous Operation Dragon King (နဂါးမင္း စစ္ဆင္ေရး) of 1978. The reports by the media and those from professional circle had been varied -- you still have to read every thing between the lines.

One rather peculiar incident, in regards to what it may be termed as arbitrary arrest and detention case being reported by the New Hampshire paper 10/10/1978 as:

"In a typical tale, Ulla Meah said Burmese officials took away a son and a daughter when he couldn't produce identity cards for them. He then fled with his wife, mother, an other son and three daughters."

My question is what seems to be the pressure that forced Ulla Meah to leave Arakan. A son and a daughter were in immigration custody, why Ulla Meah abandoned his own son and daughter? The Ulla Meah weren't at all those "illegal Bengali immigrants" since the rest of family didn't get arrested by the Burmese police. Why then, did his family left Arakan? Generalized violence? Any other threats? Can anyone shed some light on this puzzle ? A theory or even a wild guess?

In Solidarity, U Ne Oo.