The Rohingya are a Muslim majority people who have been forced to flee to the border of Bangladesh — approximately 700,000 people (90% of Rohingya in Rakhine State, Burma/Myanmar) have left their homes due to the recent conflict. Many of these people are only able to carry what they have on them at the time. Though this conflict is long-standing, the most recent one was spurred off by ARSA (Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army), a militant Rohingya group, and their attacks on police and military personnel. The government responded in kind with overwhelming force, using rape as a weapon, killing thousands of children under the age of five, torture, burning the faces off of bodies so that families could not identify them — just to name a few of the war crimes committed against civilians.
The Burmese government sold the offensive to the international community as a fight against Islamic extremism, though few major players bought into that idea. There were too many documented reports from a whole myriad of sources getting information off the ground that directly contradicted this.
What’s more is that the Burmese government has now began to shift their push to the Kachin people, and some estimates say that over 90% of them are Christian. Of course, the state-run media outlets and military officials (who have very separate control from the elected government) have their own, new narratives. They are saying that the Kachin Independence Organisation has nulled their treaty as they continuously refuse to assimilate into Burmese control, and instead of further negotiations, the Burma Army began yet another violent offensive. They will likely not try to convince anyone of Christian extremists, as the international community would probably not buy it as some bought the Muslim extremist angle.
Why did the Rohingya get so much more media coverage than the Kachin?
The Rohingya got more international attention simply because of the sheer numbers of people involved. While thousands upon thousands of displaced Kachin might make international news if it happened independently, the fact that it happened after hundreds of thousands of Rohingya were displaced sort of makes it less impactful in the headlines.
The Rohingya are also not considered Burmese by the Burmese government, despite the fact that they have been there for generations and even held seats in parliament. Still, the Kachin are considered to be under the Burma government’s purview, though they view their land as their own. This changes the dynamic of the conflict and makes it feel as if the Kachin is just another long-standing conflict between internal powers, and therefore nothing new.
Regardless, the Kachin say that an eighth of their entire population has already been displaced due to the recent violence.
Why does the Burmese government keep attacking these ethnic groups?
This is an extremely complex question. Like it or not, the Burmese government is the common denominator in all of these offensives, but their reasons for the continuous war crimes can be difficult to grasp.
There are elements that are unique to each conflict — the ARSA attacks coupled with the Burmese government’s existing disdain for the Rohingya were two huge factors in their genocidal efforts against the people. Just as the military claimed that the Kachin had voided the ceasefire, they were the first to attack and seize gold and jade mines, as well as other resource rich areas throughout Kachin State.
And there are reasons like this with all of the other genocidal efforts throughout the country, against ethnic minority states of all religions and origins. This includes the Karen, Shan, Karenni and the Chin. All have suffered greatly under the thumb of the Burmese military, and many did not strike against the military first.
Still, there are some commonalities between all of these conflicts.
The government’s violent methods towards defeating the ethnic minorities date all the way back to WWII (making it the longest standing civil war in modern history). Many of the minorities sided with the British as the government submitted to the Japanese. When the Allies won the war, the Burmese government was still in charge, and that bad blood didn’t just disappear. From there, you have a continued cycle of violence that might take breaks with individual minority groups, but doesn’t let up entirely. This is why it’s partially disingenuous to treat the ARSA attacks as independent attacks. This part of the conflict is more like a family feud — you have retaliatory attacks that go back and forth with no end in sight. This is, of course, a very simplified way of looking at it, and it’s only one piece of the puzzle. Especially when you consider that many of these ethnic groups would stop fighting altogether if they were simply left alone.
The Burmese government also wants complete control over its own nation — this makes sense, on the face of it. The reality is that the ethnic states have no desire to fall under the government’s purview. Living independently and being left alone is far more ideal to many of these people, especially the Karen to the east, who have suffered immensely over the years under the thumb of the same government that wants to seize control of their land.
I recently spoke to a Karen immigrant in the U.S. He told me that, “We are not against the Burmese people, even the Burmese people suffer under the regime. They suffer terribly too, and it’s happening to every tribe (like the Karen) and every ethnic nationality.”
And one of the reasons the Burmese government seeks to exert control over these areas is the fact that they are natural resource-rich. As mentioned before, the north has many gold and jade mines, and is plentiful with teak wood iron and other valuable resources. This includes the huge amount of poppy production in the north. It is not the first time that a military has been used to oust local populations by force in order to secure valuable resources.
These are just a few of the complexities of the conflict, and the fact that it’s so complex has contributed to the length of the war that has lasted for over 70 years.
Featured image: In this March 17, 2018 photo, a Kachin Independence Army rebel watches no man’s land, towards Myanmar army front line from an outpost in Hpalap mountain, controlled by Kachin rebels in northern Kachin state, Myanmar. While the world is focused on attacks on Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims, a civil war rages, pitting government forces against another of the country’s minorities, the Kachins, mostly Christian. It’s one of the longest-running wars on Earth, and it has intensified dramatically in recent months, with at least 10,000 people been displaced since January alone, according to the United Nations. | AP Photo/Esther Htusan