Junta forces Rohingyas to protest ethnic rebels in Myanmar’s Rakhine state

Those who refuse to denounce the Arakan Army are made to pay fines.
By RFA Burmese
2024.04.22
Junta forces Rohingyas to protest ethnic rebels in Myanmar’s Rakhine state Rohingyas from Bu May and Bar Sar Ra villages of Sittwe township, Rakhine state, protest March 23, 2024.
Myanmar Military

Junta authorities in western Myanmar forced hundreds of Rohingya Muslims to protest an ethnic rebel offensive that has the military on the ropes in Rakhine state – and fining them if they didn’t participate, residents said Monday.

It’s the latest bid by the junta to stoke ethnic tensions in the region, where a military clearance operation in 2017 killed thousands of Rohingyas and sent nearly 1 million fleeing into neighboring Bangladesh. Authorities have been pressing those who remain in a patchwork of villages and camps for the displaced into military service in recent weeks.

A participant in Monday’s protest said authorities forced around 1,000 Rohingyas from Rathedaung township’s Bar Sar Ra village and Bu May village in the state capital Sittwe to hold signboards denouncing the ethnic Arakan Army, or AA, and call for an end to the conflict or face fines and other punishment.

Rohingyas from Bu May village of Sittwe township, Rakhine state, staged a protest on April 20, 2024. (Narinjara)
Rohingyas from Bu May village of Sittwe township, Rakhine state, staged a protest on April 20, 2024. (Narinjara)

"If we don’t take part in the protests, we will have to pay 50,000 kyats (US$1.40) per household, and our village will be cut off as punishment,” said the protest participant who, like others interviewed for this report, spoke on condition of anonymity citing security concerns.

“We all fear such threats, and we cannot afford to pay this fine as all of us are facing various hardships in our daily lives. So, we had no option but to join the protest,” he told RFA Burmese.

The Rohingyas were also made to sign a petition saying that they don’t want the region to be governed by the AA, which has seized six of Rakhine’s 17 townships and several smaller towns since launching an offensive against the military on Nov. 13, 2023.

As of early April, the AA had captured some 170 junta camps and posts, as well as several larger bases, battalion headquarters, and training facilities in Rakhine state.

Earlier protests

Monday’s protest follows similar ones in Sittwe on March 21 and in Buthidaung township on March 19 – both of which included hundreds of Rohingyas.

Rohingya elders thwarted a protest scheduled to take place in Maungdaw township last month, a resident told RFA.

Rohingya activist Nay San Lwin said that the protests were orchestrated by the junta in Rakhine state.

"We have learned that the state police commander forced Rohingyas to stage the protests,” he said. “He [the commander] organized a meeting with the local elders and ordered them to take part in the protest with at least one person from each household.”

Nay San Lwin expressed concern that junta pressure could lead to communal conflicts between Rakhine and Rohingya people in the state.

Also on Monday, around 30 junta troops entered Munaung township’s Thit Pon village and forced villagers to sign a petition against the AA, according to residents.

Rohingyas from Bu May village of Sittwe township, Rakhine state, staged a protest on April 20, 2024. (Narinjara)
Rohingyas from Bu May village of Sittwe township, Rakhine state, staged a protest on April 20, 2024. (Narinjara)

A Munaung resident, who also declined to be named, told RFA that villagers were scared and could not refuse.

“They [the junta soldiers] went to Thit Pon village and held a village meeting,” he said. “They forced us to make signboards that said ‘The AA is not welcome.’ If we refused, we would have been arrested and they would have fired artillery at our village.”

Repeated attempts by RFA to contact Attorney General Hla Thein, the junta spokesperson for Rakhine state, for more information about the protests went unanswered Monday.

The AA accused the junta in late March of creating racial and religious conflict in Rakhine state with protests to divert public attention from military defeats in the region.

Translated by Aung Naing. Edited by Joshua Lipes and Malcolm Foster.

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