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Rohingya links with Islamic terror

There is a growing international concern about the political linkage between Rohingya Muslims settled in the Rakhine (Arakan) province of Myanmar and Islamic fundamentalist organisations. Bangladesh authorities recently rejected official Indian claims about the location of Rohingya camps running close to the Myanmar international border in the Chittagong Hill tracts area, to provide them weapons training. According to Indian Intelligence sources, these camps have been running for the last 6-7 months. The objective is to train and arm one section of the persecuted community to defend itself and counter attack, during future outbreaks of ethnic violence in Myanmar. 

The matter was discussed at the recent home secretary level talks between the two countries.However, Bangladesh officials ruled out the existence of any such camps and said they would never allow their territory to be misused by foreign armed groups. Relations between India and Bangladesh over regional security and related matters have been much better with Awami League ruling the latter country. India has not yet reacted officially to Bangladesh’s views. It may be recalled that even in the recent past, there used to be some disagreement between the two South Asian neighbours regarding the functioning of training camps for hostile armed insurgents. Bangladesh accused India of aiding and harbouring Chakma insurgents during the BNP rule. India provided a list of 80 or more camps run by ULFA, NDFB and other insurgents. Both countries used to deny, almost routinely, such claims and assured each other nothing would be done to disturb good neighbourly relations. 

On one occasion however, the presence of tribal Tripura insurgent organisations in Comilla was established when two rival armed groups fought and killed each other on Bangladesh soil, some years ago.Regarding the latest disagreement between India and Bangladesh, regional security experts are yet to express an opinion. However, there is universal agreement that a section of Rohingya Muslims maintain close links with international Islamic terror groups and civil rights organisations. Recently, a group of Rohingyas met in Saudi Arabia to discuss the present situation in Myanmar and seek a political solution to the continuing ethnic crisis and strife. Rohingyas also addressed a recent rally organised by the Indonesian Forum Umat Islam organisation in Jakarta last month, seeking moral and material support, according to media reports. Veteran analyst Bertil Lintner feels that Rohingyas may well have sought international help and recalls that they had often worked closely with the (just banned) Jamate-Islami party in Bangladesh.Myanmar authorities, who continue to suppress the Rohingyas ruthlessly, not recognising them as ethnic Burmese at all, claim that the ‘foreign Bengali Muslims from Bangladesh’ are actually out to establish first an autonomous and then an independent breakaway Arakan province, in view of its rich offshore hydrocarbon resources of the region. 

Their population has also increased rapidly in recent years, threatening local indigenous communities. There is evidence of Saudi Arabia-based charity groups like Rabita and others helping the community to spread Islam locally. According to the local Burmese view, most Rohingyas are a product of a union between ‘Bangladeshi fathers and Burmese mothers.’ The Burmese maintain the Muslims were brought into Burma by the British into their territory and they later settled permanently. At one time, they numbered almost a million. Successive waves of targeted anti-Muslim attacks resulted in the exodus of some 250,000 of them to Bangladesh some years ago and another 150,000 in recent months. At least 200 people were killed in group attacks and clashes, but many more perished while trying to flee by boats, aiming to reach Bangladesh, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia or Singapore, through starvation or drowning. Bangladesh no longer accepts Rohingya refugees, nor do the other countries. Only Thailand has allowed some 2000 or so to settle into temporary camps pending their deportation. A smaller number has been accommodated in Malaysia and Indonesia. Along with Thailand, these countries have urged upon Myanmar to settle the Rohinya issue. 

So far, there has been no categorical response from Naypitaw. Quite apart from ethnic differences, the Islamic terror linkage of the Rohingyas most countries in the region find disturbing. Indonesia has seen angry anti-Myanmar demonstrations by large crowds, in support of the Rohingyas.India, too, has reasons for concern. A group of nearly 3,000 Rohingyas have turned up in Delhi, to protest outside the office of the UNHCR. According media sources, most have been put up in local mosques by their ‘sympathisers,’ who are led and organised by the former Vice Chancellor of Jamia Milia University, Nawaz Zafar Jung. They want to be settled in India, although by rights they should be the responsibility of Bangladesh or Myanmar or the United Nations. Some Muslim organisations in India have supported their demand. Smaller bands of stranded Rohingyas,believed to be on their way to Pakistan, have been rounded up from West Bengal. The past record of Rohingyas should also cause Indian policymakers worry. Members of the community have participated in the anti-Soviet operations of Islamic Jehadis in Afghanistan. Some have been trained in armed camps there and elsewhere, along with Taliban and Al Qaeda activists. Presumably these facts make it clear to most governments that if settled in their territory, the Rohingyas could well turn out to be quite a handful, even as a minority. 

The Organisation of Islamic Countries also tried to open an office in Myanmar to help the beleaguered community financially. The Myanmar government did not agree. Given the complexity of the present situation, India can at best wait and watch the situation carefully and step up its own security in the East.

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