Rakhine: Landmark of the Titans

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Parvedge Haider:

Rakhine has become a regular headline in the recent years on diverse concerns. Global superpowers are keeping their keen eyes on its situation development. In maximum cases the economic interest of those superpowers are superseding the humanity. Huge numbers of economic projects of different nations are giving less priority to the need of local people and surprisingly, the inhuman act of Rohingya ethnic cleansing could become a part of a bigger plan of the interested corners. Now, it is a natural instinct to discern, why the Rakhine state is being given so much of priority! Rakhine is one of the least developed states of Myanmar where approximately 79% people live below the poverty line. However its unique history could not be carried forward due to numerous political upsets. Rakhine also known as Arakan, was an independent Kingdom for some five thousand years from BC 3325 – AD 1784. The last dynasty was the powerful and prosperous Buddhist kingdom of Mrauk-U, which ruled the region from 1433 until the conquest by the Burmese in 1784. This conquest put the Arakanese under Burmese rule from 1784 until the present, with the exception of British rule from 1826-1948. As a conquered ethnic minority in Myanmar, the Arakanese have been marginalized and disempowered by the dominant Burmese society. Long-term grievances and current critical problems led to a strong popular Arakanese movement; United League of Arakan (ULA) is the pioneer to lead and its armed wing Arakan Army (AA) is fighting militarily for their cause.

The tragic exodus of the Rohingya people created a big vacuum in many places of Rakhine. AA considered it to be a big opportunity to generate pressure on Tatmadaw. Within this larger context, in January 2019, the AA launched attacks on four police posts in Rakhine State, causing a series of retaliations that has led to all-out conflict between the AA and the Tatmadaw. In last six months (January to June 2019) there were a total of 222 battle or attack events between these two forces. Out of those 103 were described purely as military battles, while 119 were involved in other type of atrocities on the civilians. Most of these clashes have been located in the rural areas or villages, although significant incidents took place in or near more populated areas such as Sittwe, Mrauk-U, Minbya, Ponnagyan, Maungdaw, Buthidaung and Kyawtaw. In last six months, because of the inferior fire power for head on confrontations, AA used landmines and IEDs for at least 22 times. On the other hand, there is a rumor of using chemical weapons by the Tatmadaw; On March 16, 2019 army helicopters dropped barrel bombs filled with chemical weapons on Mrauk U, Kyawtaw and Minbya Township of Arakan State but the information validity has not been proved. Besides those, there were huge number of incidents; injuries and deaths among the children, extrajudicial killings, disappearances, kidnappings, detentions, sexual violence, beatings, torture, suppression of media & internet, forced labor, use of facilities, looting, destruction of homes & buildings, intimidation, threats, searches of civilians, arbitrary arrests etc. The general people are so fed up with the government that people refused to receive monetary compensations of death cases. The government offered monetary compensations in three different events in last six months but two of the victims refused to accept it.

Photo-1: China’s Trans-Myanmar Oil and Gas Pipelines

The multi-dimensional unrest in Myanmar could not stop the business opportunities of the powerful countries. These businesses are being directed in manifolds. China’s Belt & Road Initiative leans on Myanmar to create access for a transportation corridor and India’s interests in connecting cities through routes in Myanmar are the major projects being implemented through Rakhine. Economic Interests attempting to engage in oil and gas development or the tourism industry in and around Rakhine State are on the process. Myanmar-China oil and gas pipeline is the biggest foreign direct investment between China and Myanmar, connecting from Yunnan Province, China through to Rakhine State, Myanmar. The Myanmar-China Pipeline Watch Committee (MCPWC) has formed a network of civil society organizations in 21 townships along the pipeline to monitor the pipeline project.

Photo-2: Kaladan Multi-modal Transit Transport route to connect Kolkata with Seven sisters

The potentiality of big profit margin is attracting the foreign investors of many countries including Singapore, South Korea, China and India in Rakhine State. Singapore topped the list with US$20.6 billion investment in Myanmar, followed by China with US$20.3 billion investment. Foreign investors made the biggest investment in energy sector in the state. However, the local investors made most of their investments in the hotel and tourism sectors.

Australian developer, Gold Coast KTMG has proposed to create advancement of all the important places of Sittwe city, the capital of Rakhine. It might be a deal of US$38 billion for developing 7,000 acres of land. There is a reflection of this development project in the society.  Already the price of lands in the town areas is on the rise.

There are businesses in the supply of arms also. Despite EU and US arms embargoes China, Israel, Russia and some other countries are continuing to supply arms to Myanmar. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), China accounted for 68% of Myanmar arms imports, including armored vehicles, surface-to-air missile technology, radar, and unarmed drones. The accountability of these arms purchase transaction have been calculated from 2013-17.

Photo-3: Senior General, Min Aung Hlaing

According Senior General, Min Aung Hlaing, Commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces of Myanmar, there will be purchase of all types of military equipment, including artillery, tanks and small arms from Russia. There are as many as six Sukhoi SU-30SM fighter jets are in the process of supplying in Myanmar under a contract worth about US$204 million. Israeli arms dealers are also selling arms to the Myanmar military. It has been learnt that on June 4, 2019 Myanmar military representatives had detail visit at the Israel Defense (ISDEF) 2019 expo in Tel Aviv. There likely to be more arms deal with Israel in the near future.

Photo-4: Israel Defense (ISDEF) 2019

Myanmar army has bought a number of JF-17 ‘Thunder’ combat jets, developed jointly by China and Pakistan. On December 17, 2018 Jane’s disclosed that Myanmar Air Force has received the first delivery of JF-17 ‘Thunder’ combat aircraft which was ordered in 2015.

Photo-5: JF-17 “Thunder” Combat Jets

In last February 2019, Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi called for investment in the crisis-hit western state of Rakhine. She emphasized the responsible business practices and investment in the coastal state’s tourist hotspot of Ngapali beach.

Despite lot of business projects and foreign investments as the local Rakhine people are not being benefitted, there are possibilities of more tension in the upcoming days. Without addressing the human rights issues none of the development work in Rakhine can create good impact in the life of general people. Besides the violation of human rights issues, there is corruption in every sector of Myanmar. The military is believed to draw a large amount of illegitimate funding from two local companies; the Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC) and Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings (UMEH). Western Union uses a local bank that is a subsidiary of UMEH as an agent for its remittance services in Myanmar, while the Adani Group, an Indian corporation, recently signed a $290 million deal to develop a container port with MEC. So, indirectly the mass corruption in Myanmar is likely to continue. In an autocratic society where a particular group of people or organization is being more benefitted, the frustration of the general people will rise automatically. In case of Myanmar, this tension is more due to its multi-diverse ethnicity and maximum of which are literally continuing a long armed rebellion. After the mass exodus of Rohingya people, the long tension related to ethnic Arakan people is not likely to ease up very soon. However, the investment of the superpowers are expected to be well planned and being executed with a full proof design.

Parvedge Haider

Email- parvedgehaider5235@gmail.com

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