Myanmar’s military junta is grinning as it plays games with Myanmar’s dire straits state, Rakhine.
The junta games involve dividing the masses, sparking alarm, playing with aid, playing with health, pressing forward with income-making infrastructure and battening down a minority that ranks as the world’s most oppressed.
Welcome to Rakhine State, one of the poorest states in the Myanmar union.
The situation would be laughable if it wasn’t so serious.
The junta games are multifaceted.
This week, hyped up rumours of clashes and tension between Rakhine Buddhists and Muslim Rohingya appear part of a “divide and rule” strategy by the generals to ramp up the pressure. Queries have been raised as a story popped up that alleged the Myanmar military is working with a troublesome bunch of militants, the Arakan Rohingya Solidarity Army (ARSA), in a play-off against the Arakan Army (AA), unlikely as this would appear.
According to a Border News Agency (BNA) 23 August report, information obtained from ARSA members and some officers of the military regime by BNA, under the arrangement of the military commander in Buthidaung township, 75 AK guns were planned to be transferred through intermediaries in order for ARSA members to have some military equipment in Maungdaw township. While many might dismiss this claim, rumours in the air add to the confusion.
At the same time, calls for help from Cyclone Mocha-hit residents grow shrill as little or nothing comes from the junta meeting with the UN humanitarian aid head Martin Griffiths. Griffiths was trying to get permission to funnel international aid to those in need. So far, we have heard nothing about a junta “green light”. Many distressed residents – particularly internally displaced people (IDP) and Rohingya communities – stand empty-handed or with a pittance. Add to that the promise made in July by junta leader Min Aung Hlaing that necessary health workers would be appointed for the hospitals in the state. While the pledge has not yet been implemented, the junta’s health minister popped off to a recent glad-handing ASEAN health meeting, unlikely to have been pressed by ASEAN delegates about the dire health situation in Rakhine, or the country as a whole for that matter. The junta is allegedly responsible for the deaths of 90 health workers since the 2021 coup.
The junta games use foreigners.
As if to rub people’s noses in it, the junta announced this week its excitement at forging ahead with the Kyauk Phyu-Mandalay railroad and further development of the Kyauk Phyu SEZ and Deep Sea Port in Rakhine aimed at helping China with needed trade goods and fuel supplies - essentially a “nice little earner” for the Naypyidaw elite. The junta games use big players, namely China, India and even Russia use development projects to bring in big bucks, further reinforcing their position in Naypyidaw.
The junta games are serious.
A snapshot of the chess moves highlighted this week is merely a reminder of what the Myanmar people have in their heart-of-hearts known all along that when it comes to Rakhine - the Myanmar military is on a land grab and coffers-filling control mission that seeks to squeeze the most out of this impoverished state and push what they call the “Bengali” out of the picture. Junta strategy over kicking out the Rohingya, or allowing them back, involves a slight of hand in which they steal the land of those who have fled. Even those Rohingya allowed back under a troubled organized repatriation programme will find themselves corralled into camps, not back on their land, lacking citizenship ID to travel.
The junta games are long.
A combination of almost absurd news headlines this week – a juxtaposition of development and lack of aid bleeding the population dry – actually offers an insight into the long game that the generals have been playing now, not just for years, but for decades.
Rakhine, for all its poverty, is potentially rich given its natural resources, position as a transit route for trade and fuel, and its status as a border province. Just look at that Indian Ocean doorway to China, a great money-making scheme. So, the generals have long had their eye on sucking up the benefit from this state and getting rid of “undesirables” who get in their way.
The Muslim Rohingya do not need reminding of the oppression they have faced as a community over the decades as the generals sought to wipe out any right to citizenship for people painted as intruders, denigrated due to their religion and their race. At the best, the current junta plans to lock potential Rohingya returnees in camps and restrict their movement, as mentioned. At worst, the junta dreams of driving them out altogether, a process energized in 1982, in the 1990s and in 2016-2017 – the military operations in the latter allegedly an act of genocide if international courts rule accordingly.
Just last week Rohingya and supporters marked the sixth anniversary of the pogrom by the Myanmar military that killed so many and drove over 700,000 to flee to Bangladesh. Today, refugee host Bangladesh is losing patience, calling this week for the start of a refugee return programme this year. But watch “mission impossible” roll out at the junta arranges camps and repatriation and a host of players – including most Rohingya refugees – push back if full citizenship is not provided.
It can be argued that only the death of the junta will provide a glimpse of hope that these exiles will be given full rights and a dignified return.
Finally, the junta games are shameless.
Cyclone-battered Rakhine has become the junta’s playground, one in which the generals show no compassion, seeking to squeeze the most impoverished state dry for financial and political gain, and fobbing off foreign dignitaries who come cap-in-hand to their door, even if they come under the mantle of the hallowed United Nations.
When it comes to the Rakhine, the junta is indeed playing shameless multifaced games, games in which the cards are in their favour, all directed from the safety and comfort of their ivory tower in Naypyidaw.