Burma had the unenviable distinction of being listed among Syria, Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of Congo as hosting 10 “conflicts to watch” in 2017, as compiled by Jean-Marie Guéhenno of the Brussels-based International Crisis Group in an article appearing in Foreign Policy on Thursday.
Guéhenno, ICG’s president and CEO, cited ongoing fighting between the Burma Army and multiple ethnic armed groups, as well as new and more alarming developments in strife-torn Arakan State this year, as reasons for ranking Burma eighth among the 10 most volatile places in the world.
The country did not make Foreign Policy’s 2016 “conflicts to watch” list, while Syria/Iraq, Turkey and Yemen retained their rankings at first through third, respectively.
Describing the emergence of a Rohingya Muslim insurgency in Arakan State as “a potential game-changer in Myanmar,” Guéhenno wrote, “Grievances could be exploited by transnational jihadis attempting to pursue their own agendas, which would inflame religious tensions across the majority Buddhist country.”
An attack on border guard posts in northern Arakan State on 9 October saw “security forces hit back hard in a campaign that made little distinction between militants and civilians, with allegations of extrajudicial executions, rapes and arson,” Guéhenno noted.
The fallout has spanned borders, including an influx of tens of thousands of Rohingya refugees into Bangladesh and a diplomatic row between the Burmese government and fellow ASEAN member state Malaysia over the Muslim minority’s treatment.
An “unprecedented” 20 November assault on police and military targets in Muse township by the four ethnic armed groups calling their collective the Northern Alliance has further imperiled an already flagging peace process between the government and Burma’s myriad ethnic armed groups, according to Guéhenno.
In a report last month, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said about 218,000 remained displaced by conflict across Kachin, Shan and Rakhine states.
Burma was ranked between Afghanistan and Ukraine on this year’s list.