The Muslims in the Arakan (now called Rakhine) State of Myanmar have strongly come out in support of the uprising against the military junta spearheaded by the Buddhist monks, students and others.
2. In a statement disseminated on September 28, 2007, the Arakan Rohingya National Organisation (ARNO, which represents the local Muslims) strongly condemned the Junta’s brutal crackdown against unarmed peaceful demonstrators and urged the international community to take concerted and tougher action to stop the regime from further committing crimes against humanity and against the people of Burma. It added: “We salute the courageous efforts of the revered Buddhist monks and the people who are holding fast aloft the message of freedom and democracy risking their precious lives, and we hope their sacrifice will certainly serve as a beacon light in our emancipation movement. In solidarity, we express our total support to this extraordinary and inspiring mass uprising. It is heartening that, on 26 September 2007, the Rohingyas and Rakhaings had jointly participated in the demonstration staged by the Buddhist monks forming human chains in Akyab chanting the slogan: “we are a family and we are travellers in the same boat, we Burmese citizens need to be united without regard to religion, class or race.” This has revitalized the spirit of rapprochement and solidarity between our twin brothers in Arakan as did in 1988 the democracy mass uprising. Meanwhile, we caution all not to fall prey to the Junta’s machination to divide the people on religious line and remain vigilant to foil its possible attempt to incite communal disturbance in Arakan and the rest of the country with a view to diverting minds of the people away from the present crisis. We call on the UN Security Council (UNSC) to pass an urgent binding resolution requiring the military regime to free all political prisoners, including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and all those arrested in the current crackdowns, and to engage in a meaningful tripartite dialogue for a transition to democracy setting specific deadlines outlining targeted sanctions to be imposed in case of non-compliance.We also call on the neighbouring countries, particularly China, India, and ASEAN to stop lending any covert and overt support encouraging the murderous military regime, out of deference to the Burmese people’s legitimate wishes and aspiration for democracy, human rights and federalism, in the interest of long term mutual benefit, peace and stability in the region. We welcome the statements and stance of the Governments of U.S, U.K, and other countries expressing support to the ongoing democracy movement in Burma. ”
3. While the Muslims have regretted reports of Indian support to the Junta, they have used stronger words against China, which they have described as “the military dictatorship’s main backer” and warned it that it would be held accountable before the international community if there is a repetition of the 1988 bloodbath in Myanmar. The ARNO has been collecting signatures on a petition to be jointly addressed to the President of the UN Security Council and President Hu Jintao of China. The petition inter alia says as follows: “We stand alongside the citizens of Burma in their peaceful protests. We urge you to oppose a violent crackdown on the demonstrators, and to support genuine reconciliation and democracy in Burma. We pledge to hold you accountable for any further bloodshed.”
4. Reports received so far indicate that the Junta has avoided using military force against the protesters in the Arakan area. Nor have they imposed a curfew. Rohingya Muslim sources in the Arakan area have reported that there were two demonstrations on September 27,2007. In the first at Akyab (Sittwe), the capital of the State, about 200 monks and others participated. In the second at Taungup, about 10,000 people participated. The Army did not interfere with the demonstrations. No report on the local situation on September 28,2007, is available since the Army has cut off all communications between the Arakan State and the rest of Myanmar as well as the rest of the world.
5. However, Rohingya Muslim sources based in Akyab disseminated on September 28,2007, the following report regarding the situation which prevailed during the previous two days:” The Burmese military junta and members of the United Solidarity Development Association (USDA) have warned all monasteries in Akyab not to allow young monks, called novices, to go out of the monasteries. The order came after authorities imposed curfew in Rangoon and Mandalay, said a resident in Akyab. The USDA members and junta officials visited all the monasteries in Akyab and told senior monks not to allow young monks to go out of the monasteries to the streets. Should any monastery flout the order they would face action. More than 4,000 monks and people demonstrated on the streets of Akyab on September 25, while more than 100,000 people hit the streets of Rangoon. More than 1,000 Rohingya people (Muslims) from Akyab joined the demonstration led by monks on September 26, said a Rohingya elder from Akyab. The ruling authorities brought soldiers from Infantry Battalion (IB) No. 374 from Kyauktaw and Light Infantry Battalion (LIB) No.289 from Maruk_U to tighten security in Akyab on September 25, said sources. Authorites in Arakan closed routes in the state and monitored monks who were traveling.” The USDA is a front organisation of the Myanmar intelligence.
6. With the Junta cutting off all communications between Myanmar and the rest of the world, no more details of the situation in Yangon (Rangoon) have been coming out and the flow of visuals has declined. No authentic figures of casualties are available. While the official figures given are nine dead and many injured, Myanmar exiles say that the fatalities as a result of repeated firing by the Army in Yangon and Mandalay run into dozens. The Junta’s present strategy is to keep the use of military force confined to Yangon and Mandalay and avoid the use of force in smaller towns and to drive a wedge between the younger monks, who are in the forefront of the protests, and the older monks, who seem to be following a more restrained policy in order not to provoke the Junta.
7. There have been rumours of some soldiers refusing to fire on the monks and of differences between the head of the Junta Senior General Than Shwe and his second-in-command, Vice-Senior General Maung Aye over the brutal crack down, but these have not been confirmed. If there is a repetition of the bloodbath of 1988, there is a danger of anti-Chinese riots similar to what one had witnessed in 1967-68 at the height of the Cultural Revolution in China.
8. Intriguingly, the Christian elements in the population—mainly in the Kachin and Karen areas— have mostly kept away from the anti-Junta demonstrations and have not been supporting the Buddhists. Christian participation has not so far been significant.
(The writer, Mr. B.Raman, is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. He is also associated with the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org )