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Total Breakdown in Myanmar’s Arakan State

by Joshua Kurlantzick
March 31, 2014

rakhine-state-violence A warehouse of the United Nation Refugee Agency (UNHCR) is seen damaged by the recent violence in Sittwe on March 28, 2014. Protesters in Myanmar's Rakhine State opposed to a census attacked offices and houses used by international aid groups after reports a European staff member from one group had removed a Buddhist flag used as a symbol to boycott the operation, witnesses said. The violence broke out late on Wednesday and continued into Thursday. (Soe Zeya Tun/Courtesy: Reuters).


Over the weekend, according to Radio Free Asia and other news reports, nearly all international aid groups operating in western Myanmar’s Arakan, or Rakhine, State, fled the state capital or hid in police stations and other (supposedly) secure locations. They had to flee or hide as mobs of angry Arakanese Buddhists attacked several aid workers, and threatened many other offices of international aid agencies. This comes on the heels of several other attacks on international aid agencies operating in Arakan State and on the government’s decision to bar Doctors Without Borders, the leading health care provider to internally displaced people in Arakan State, from operating in the state. The Irrawaddy has a summary of the events here.

This time, the specific trigger for mob attacks on Rohingya and aid workers was Arakanese Buddhists’ anger at the upcoming Myanmar census. The census is a powder keg; for one thing, it might show that a myth propagated by many hardline Buddhists, that Myanmar’s Muslim community is growing very rapidly, is just that–a myth. But hardline Arakanese Buddhists simply want to silence anyone working with Rohingya in the state. As the Irrawaddy reported, “Arakanese Buddhists sought to chase out humanitarian organizations providing support for the Rohingya Muslim minority, officials and residents said.”

The situation in Arakan State, already one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world, is only going to get worse in the next year. Already, internally displaced people (IDP)–mostly Rohingya, but not all–across the state are living in squalid camps that have been called open air prisons. When I have visited these camps, I have found them among the worst IDP facilities I have ever seen. The aid organizations that are still operating in the state are some of the hardiest in the world, the most effective at working in dangerous and difficult environments.

If these aid organizations are forced to shut down operations in the state and furlough local staff, who are always the ones at the front lines of such violence, the humanitarian crisis in Arakan will explode, since one cannot expect the Myanmar government and the state government to provide food, decent shelter, or medicine to the IDPs. After all, instead of addressing the crisis the government has blamed aid agencies for being too sensitive to the concerns of internally displaced people in Arakan State.

Post a Comment 3 Comments

  • Posted by asdf

    It’s okay, the Myanmar government has proven its bona fides against China, so we should go easy on them.

  • Posted by Dennis R

    I don’t see why there isn’t a small intervention (I have heard there already HAS BEEN one by the US Special Operations units there BUT HOWEVER, I don’t still see why there isn’t a pro-active/preemptive incursion (on a low profile of course) to eliminate the corrupt, murderous army units that have been going unnoticed by much of the world there.
    There is no need for full troop deployment, obviously, but I ran into a few friends of mine from the Army’s Special Forces units in Ft Bragg who have said they’ve been there and if the U.S would just put up the necessary finance and attention needed, the Myanmar/Burma situation would be shaky and, hence, unable to cause such unrest among those peaceful locals who aren’t causing the trouble.
    Ever seen the RAMBO film they re-made recently in the last 8 years or so? It showed everyone how brutally those Karin rebels were treated and how bad the situation was. Instead of hunting Kony in Africa, why not send about 50-150 of Tier 1 (the best we have in our arsenal of ground assets in the Army/Navy) guys who could easily set up shop and make these crazy, spun-up (and I mean on drugs) generals stop raping and pillaging the locals.

    Instead of diplomacy, in my mind, these guys need this as much as North Korea. They are just as brutal (if not more as they don’t have curfews and a Kim-type dictator who constantly imprisons political prisoners, then work them–and their families–to death in the mines!!).
    You give those people about a hundred of our home stationed (meaning those already not busy elsewhere) SOF operators who know how to kill from a distance, and let them go in, try to calm it down, and if all else fails, they just kill everything wearing these genocidal “soldiers” (if you call them that at all) uniforms and just make it pure chaos in order to rebuild the confidence/eliminate the fear these people have lived under for several decades.

    Just my opinion….if you have any questions, email me


    DUDE, you guys think that the only aspect holding back any further action/actions against said groups is this?

    Listen, there is only one way (and yes, I’ll say it…..FOREIGN intervention). No, not another Iraq etc…I mean a joint Task Force made up of Aussie SASR (Spec Ops unit known for smaller tasks that are kept quiet), US Delta operators from the top two squadrons who specialize in this type of small, low-impact kinetic operations, and maybe even some of the Philippines’ SOF units (who are the best at disappearing right in front of their enemy when the job is done)….

    The US OGA assets (OGA=CIA) are perfect also for handling this.
    There is no reason to seek out a diplomatic outcome when the last fifty years there have been genocides (AND YES, EVEN CONCENTRATION CAMPS LIKE YOU WOULD SEE IN N.KOREA) that would rival Stalin himself. Just because you, as an American (or whoever/wherever you hail from), doesn’t mean it’s not there. I know for a FACT from former ODA detachments/”A-Teams” as they are known in film (Army Special Forces) friends of mine who’ve gone there to help that, most unfortunate as it is, the only way to stop it is NOT to go after the rebel/muslim groups (thought they need some serious attention as well), but to send maybe a small contingent of US Delta/SEAL Team 6/JSOC etc units in to just put a VERY VERY quiet end to this to begin with.
    After reading the article, there are no other ways. It would be like writing ’bout kim Jr’s craziness in N.Korea and just saying “Sactions oughtta do it, because hey, we can’t afford ANOTHER war after the last two”
    But the truth is, I am no an advocate for immediate mil action like I may come across, but Burma has been just ASKING FOR TROUBLE since I can remember (for about 20 years now).

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