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HomeOpinionThe Arakan Army - it ain’t freaking genocide

The Arakan Army – it ain’t freaking genocide

Guest contributor

Shafiur Rahman

Indian journalist Yeshi Seli isn’t shy about sensationalism. In her recent article for The New Indian Express: “Islamic terror groups holding over 1,600 Hindus, 120 Buddhists hostage in Myanmar,” she makes some bold, alarmist claims. 

Citing a mysterious “source,” Seli paints a grim picture of the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) and the Arakan Rohingya Army (ARA), asserting that they’re working “on behalf of the military to kill and terrorise ethnic groups on the basis of religion.” 

The story goes further, suggesting that these groups are holding more than 1,600 Hindus and 120 Buddhists hostage in Buthidaung Township of Rakhine State.

It’s classic tabloid-style journalism – dramatic, loaded with emotional language, and implying that this could lead to another massacre, reminiscent of the 2017 Hindu killings in Rakhine.

Not only is it inflammatory, but it also lacks evidence to back it up.

The Arakan Army (AA) Commander-in-Chief Twan Mrat Naing added fuel to the fire by sharing Seli’s article, hinting at a cosy relationship between the AA and the source of this misinformation.

In February, Yeshi Seli had claimed another exclusive—a first-ever interview with an unnamed spokesperson for the AA political wing, the United League of Arakan (ULA/AA). 

This connection suggests that the same source might be feeding information for both stories, lending credence to the notion that these sensationalist claims are part of a broader strategy to manipulate public perception.

Yeshi Seli’s article from February painted the AA as the heroes of Myanmar, given their mission to uproot military dictatorship. 

Through the words of the unnamed ULA spokesperson, the AA is portrayed as guardians of India’s interests, with assurances that the Kaladan Multimodal Transit Transport Project (KMMTTP) will remain safe under its watch.

This narrative aligns the AA with India’s geopolitical goals, suggesting that they’re the right partners for a post-military regime Myanmar.

The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) quickly refuted the entire hostage-taking narrative. 

The UN Human Rights Commissioner Volker Türk pointed out that this kind of disinformation fuels violence, calling it a throwback to the 2012 intercommunal violence, which led up to the horrendous attacks against the Rohingya in 2017.

Yet, the AA response was to chastise the OHCHR for allegedly ignoring the “real” victims, doubling down on their contentious stance on the hostage claims without substantiating them.   

This narrative shifts the focus away from AA activities. While it calls other groups extremists, their own actions within the region reveal a troubling agenda. 

According to the same U.N. report, since the start of the year, the AA has strategically positioned itself in and around Rohingya villages. 

This tactic effectively invites military attacks on Rohingya civilians, which has led to many more killed.

Reports from the ground have highlighted not just the collateral damage but direct abuses such as arbitrary killings, forced labour, harassment, detention and extortion perpetrated by the AA. 

These actions contribute to an atmosphere of fear and instability, and they exacerbate the suffering of a community already marred by displacement and persecution.

Conscription by the AA has added further pressure to the already dire situation for the Rohingya. 

During my interviews with Rohingya lawyer Razia Sultana and European Rohingya Council Chairperson Ambia Parveen, both detailed the coercive practices.

“Our youth are being recruited by the AA and the Myanmar military for financial incentives or the promise of free movement or not to be forced to leave their own land,” said Razia Sultana.

Yet these promises have proved empty, with many recruits finding themselves displaced and forced into conflict zones. 

“The conscription law is arbitrarily imposed against Rohingya by both armed entities and definitely not by their [Rohingya] choice, rather they are being forced,” said Ambia Parveen. 

The AA media interventions serve a calculated purpose. By amplifying sensationalist narratives, they strategically position themselves as the protectors of Rakhine interests against the threat of Rohingya armed groups such as ARSA, RSO, and ARA. 

This narrative does more than distort the reality on the ground; it provides a smokescreen that shifts attention from the aggressive tactics and questionable alliances by the AA. 

By portraying these Rohingya groups as Muslim extremists, the AA aims to validate its approach and reinforce its legitimacy in the eyes of both the international community and regional stakeholders.

It was not always so. In fact since 2017, the AA have had from time to time transactional relations with all three Rohingya armed groups and other gangs, indicating that these alliances are driven by pragmatic, often illicit interests.

Shifting and short-lived alliances are symptomatic of the fluid and opportunistic nature of armed groups in the region. 

At the end of March, RSO declared its intention to fight alongside the AA during a Bangladeshi TV channel broadcast

Now after a recent shoot out on one of the islands in the Naf River – a hub for illicit activities, including drug trafficking and contraband – the RSO relationship with the AA has turned hostile!

The conflict and chaos in Myanmar, particularly in regions like Shan and Rakhine states, have created fertile ground for illicit economies, with the drug trade playing a significant role in sustaining armed groups. 

The International Crisis Group report: “Fire And Ice: Conflict And Drugs In Myanmar’s Shan State,” notes that in the absence of lucrative legitimate economies, conflict actors often resort to illegal activities to finance their operations. 

This includes illicit resource extraction, logging, money laundering, and narcotics, which become the go-to revenue streams for these groups.

In Rakhine State, the murky world of narcotics has seen the AA and the military regime in Naypyidaw each accusing the other of drug trafficking. 

The AA claims the regime is colluding with ARSA and the ARA to smuggle drugs into Bangladesh. The AA spokesperson Khaing Thukha warns that this smuggling jeopardises not just Myanmar’s security but also that of neighbouring countries. 

The regime, in turn, has branded the AA as a drug-trafficking group, sarcastically dubbing it the “Arakan Drug Army.” 

The AA approach to the Rohingya question serves a clear strategic purpose. By misrepresenting the Rohingya through exaggerated narratives of violence and extremism, they redirect attention away from their own practices. 

Moreover, it’s crucial to clarify that ARSA, RSO, and ARA do not represent the broader Rohingya community. 

By suggesting they do, we overlook the complex dynamics at play. Their interactions with the regime, AA or indeed Bangladesh are driven by their own agendas and survival strategies and should not be seen as reflective of the Rohingya community’s stance.

The National Unity Government (NUG) Deputy Minister of Human Rights Aung Kyaw Moe said: “They do not represent the larger Rohingya community. 

Rakhine also has people who politically collaborate with the [regime]. We should not assign collective responsibility for the acts of smaller portions of our people,” he added.

This deliberate focus on groups like ARSA, RSO, and ARA as significant threats creates a smokescreen that obscures the tactics of the AA and its own involvement in oppressive activities. 

It allows them to justify their approach while delegitimizing the broader Rohingya struggle (which is unconnected to the activities of the three armed groups).

Twan Mrat Naing’s recent remarks are emblematic of this approach. 

His response to the backlash over his use of the term “Bengali” by suggesting that being called “Mogh” is equivalent, and by dismissing concerns as “not freaking genocide” reflects a disregard for the implications of identity erasure in the context of genocide. 

By equating a derogatory term with the systemic oppression and violence faced by the Rohingya, Twan Mrat Naing’s response is more than just insensitive; it perpetuates the very discrimination that fuels persecution. 

The denial of the Rohingya identity has been a key strategy in their marginalisation, leading to massive violence and their expulsion – in short, genocide. 

To downplay this harsh reality with a glib remark is not only disrespectful to those who have suffered but also dangerous, as it undermines the efforts to hold perpetrators accountable. 

His tweet/post on social media platform X (formerly Twitter) reveals a staggering disregard for the pain and history of a people fighting for their right to exist. 

Shafiur Rahman is a documentary filmmaker working on Rohingya issues. 

DVB publishes a diversity of opinions that does not reflect DVB editorial policy. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our stories: [email protected]


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