Rohingya Muslim insurgents said on Sunday they have no option but to fight what they called Burma state-sponsored terrorism to defend the Rohingya community, and they demanded that the Rohingya be consulted on all decisions affecting their future.
The Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) launched raids on Burmese security forces on 25 August, which sparked sweeping counter-insurgency operations in the Muslim-majority north of Rakhine State that led to widespread violence and arson and an exodus of some 650,000 Rohingya villagers to Bangladesh.
The United Nations condemned the Burmese military campaign as ethnic cleansing. Buddhist-majority Burma rejected that.
But since the August raids, the small insurgent group has launched few if any attacks until Friday, when its fighters ambushed a Burmese military truck, wounding several members of the security forces.
“ARSA has … no other option but to combat ‘Burmese state-sponsored terrorism’ against the Rohingya population for the purpose of defending, salvaging and protecting the Rohingya community,” the group said in a statement signed by leader Ata Ullah and posted on Twitter.
“Rohingya people must be consulted in all decision-making that affects their humanitarian needs and political future.”
ARSA claimed responsibility for the Friday ambush but gave no details of the clash.
A Burmese government spokesman said the insurgents were trying to delay the repatriation of refugees from Bangladesh under a plan the two governments have been working on.
“ARSA aims to frighten those who are considering returning, to show the region doesn’t have peace,” Zaw Htay said.
Burma and Bangladesh have been discussing a plan to repatriate the refugees but more insecurity in Burma is likely to raise even more doubts about how quickly that might happen.
The refugees complain that they have not been consulted on the plan.
Details of the repatriation plan have yet to be finalised and many questions remain, not only about security but also about the terms refugees will return under, and whether they will be able to go back to their homes or be resettled in camps.
Rohingya have for years been denied citizenship, freedom of movement and access to services such as healthcare. Burma regards them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
Zaw Htay rejected the ARSA call for the Rohingya to be consulted, saying the government was already negotiating with leaders of both the Buddhist and Muslim communities.
“We will not accept terrorism and fight against them until the end,” the spokesman said, adding that no one should offer any support to the group.
ARSA dismisses any links to Islamist militant groups and says it is fighting to end the oppression of the Rohingya people.
A military spokesman declined to make any immediate comment about the security situation in the north of Rakhine State.
The area is largely off-limits to reporters.
Serious communal violence between Rohingya and ethnic Rakhine Buddhists erupted in 2012 and sporadic unrest followed.
The violence that began in August and the refugee crisis it caused has drawn international condemnation and raised doubts about Burma’s transition to democracy after nearly 50 years of military rule.
ARSA did not say where leader Ata Ullah was but Burma suspects the insurgents flee into Bangladesh, then slip back into Burma to launch attacks.