It has been over two weeks since the northern Maungdaw district of Myanmar’s Rakhine state has been convulsed by one of its worst-ever bouts of violence in decades over the so-called ‘Rohingyas’ or ‘Bengalis’. Unlike in the past, when cycles of violence were sparked by communal incidents, this time it was triggered on August 25 by coordinated attacks on some 30 border posts and an army base by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), now designated by Myanmar as a “terrorist” organisation. This followed a similar attack on three border posts when ARSA first made its appearance as a still shadowy Harakah al Yaqin (HaY) in October 2016 and the killing of an army officer in November.
The human toll has been heart-rending and widely documented: hundreds, overwhelmingly Rohingyas, but also some border police, officials, Rakhine Buddhists and minorities, including Hindus, killed; perhaps up to three lakh Rohingyas displaced across the Naf river into Bangladesh and thousands of Buddhists and minorities within Rakhine; and widespread looting of villages. Charges of ethnic cleansing and genocide fill the air. Humanitarian access to the area is severely limited; the media, unwelcome.