Burma Times Special Report: January 6, 2015
As the seemingly endless columns of soldiers and officers march past observing the nation’s Independence Day, they are in the sights of some men who have spent a lifetime shooting at them. But not today. The representatives from 13 ethnic armies are in Naypyidaw not to fire on their enemies, but rather by invitation, courtesy of the reformist government led by president Thein Sein.
For more than half a century, the Burman dominated government’s effort to subjugate other groups have predictably led to civil war in this ethnically diverse country. Times are changing and there are hopes that the at least the beginning of end for all ethnic wars in this country might be over the horizon. Representatives of the ethnic armies are in a meeting with the president and there are hopes of a breakthrough at long last.
Meanwhile, in Kachin State, one of the worst battlefields of the ethnic wars in recent years, the bloodshed continues as the military creeps on Kachin Independence Army positions. But as a report by the London based newspaper The Economist points out, that even in this bloody corner of the country, there is an increasing sense of freedom and ‘people are planning new lives’ with less fear of repercussions by a hostile state machinery. As the influential newspaper reports, despite setbacks in the reform process, there has been so much change in the country in the last few years, that people have already began to take advantage of the new found freedoms even in areas where the army has not long ago committed some of the worst brutalities of the war.
Everywhere except Arakan. As other ethnic groups of the nation look forward to the silver lining in the cloud, Rohingya Muslims are suffering from a dreadful sense of bloody isolation and the realisation that others will move forward without them. Confined to brutal IDP camps, or their impoverished zones without prospects of even a meagre income, guarded by hostile security forces and surrounded by Rakhine Buddhist groups, many of them in possession of what was previously Rohingya property, the plight of the ethnic minority has never been worse. And this is a group long classified by the United Nations as ‘one of the most persecuted in the world’.
These days, the almost one million strong Rohingya population in Arakan state survive in near starvation conditions. They live in the midst of a society which hates them and wants them dead or expelled, making no secret of their intentions. Anti-Muslim groups and security forces are often more than glad to comply. At the same time, the situation of other Muslims in the country has also taken a turn for the worse. The 969 movement led by the infamous monk Wirathu has gained a wide following and anti Muslim propaganda is mainstream.
Killing of Muslims, even women and children hardly receive any disapproval from Burmese society these days. According to foreign aid workers, the hatred seen in this part of the world, especially towards the Rohingya Muslims is unparalleled anywhere in the world.
So while the government might seek for a permanent peace with most ethnic minorities, the minority Muslim population looks forward to bloody days ahead with few friends in the country to speak for them.