Concern militants will seek revenge for Rohingya attacks | Connect Asia

Concern militants will seek revenge for Rohingya attacks

Concern militants will seek revenge for Rohingya attacks

Updated 12 July 2013, 15:35 AEST

A post on the radical Islamic website Ar Rahmah Media Network claims that leaders from Myanmar's ethnic Rohingya community have been in Indonesia for talks with hardline groups about recruiting fighters and weapon supplies.

The two leaders, identified as cleric Abu Arif and militant commander Abu Shafiyah, are said to have links to the RSO, the Rohingya Solidarity Organisation.

They are understood to be seeking support and assistance for as many as 300 Rohingyas who are undergoing military training in Rakhine state, with a view to stepping up retaliatory attacks on Buddhists who they accuse of persecuting them.

Presenter: Richard Ewart

Speaker: Sidney Jones, South East Asia project director for Crisis Group in Bangkok

JONES: I think it's important to underscore that this group, the RSO, Rohingya Solidarity Organisation is really a radical fringe, so they don't represent the majority of the Rohingya community.

EWART: Therefore how great is the danger of a flashpoint here, if you like. I mean plainly, if they're looking to recruit fighters, if they're looking to recruit weapons, even if they are a smallish group, they have the potential for doing damage?

JONES: I think they do have a potential for doing damage, but I think the bigger question is whether the government in Myanmar is prepared to take steps to end the persecution of the Rohingya, so that radical groups like this aren't given additional fuel to undertake retaliatory activities. I think we've got to see that there are hundreds of Rohingyas that have been killed over the last two years, so unless steps are taken, I do worry that we could see more radical actions in response.

EWART: How concerned should we be that the web site which has talked about these two men being in Indonesia. As I understand it was founded by a member of Jemaah Islamiah and I believe there are some links between JI and the RSO. So there's the risk therefore isn't of this perhaps escalating?

JONES: Well JI is not involved in violence any longer and the man who owns the web site is no longer a member of JI either. It's true that there are links in the past, including in Afghanistan, in the mid 80s and late 80s between the RSO and JI. The group that these two men were speaking to was not JI and it wasn't, it was hardline, but it was composed of groups that haven't themselves engaged in terrorism. But I do think that we do need to watch whether the outrage against the Burmese government for its treatment of the Rohingya will result in people from Indonesia, Malaysia, maybe even southern Thailand wanting to go wage jihad in Myanmar and whether they'll be able to find the contacts to do it. The thing that worries me is these two men could provide those contacts.

EWART: And how much sympathy do you believe there is for the RSO in Indonesia and to what degree would that sympathy stretch beyond words of support?

JONES: Well, I don't think there's much sympathy for the RSO per se. There is vast overwhelming sympathy for the Rohingya as a people among Muslims more generally in Indonesia, not just Muslims, just overwhelming sympathy for their plight to the point when Rohingya boat people arrive on the shores of Indonesia as they do, from time to time. They're generally treated with great sympathy and if not, if not welcome, at least warmth.

EWART: Now, the Indonesian government has recently claimed to have prevented an attack on the Myanmar embassy in Jakarta. So does that add any credence to the idea that the RSO is marshalling active support?

JONES: There's no connection between the RSO and that plot against the Myanmar embassy. But I do think that the outrage against the treatment of the Rohingya is leading some jihadi groups in Indonesia to decide to take action, not in cooperation or collaboration with the RSO, but on their own as, as a way of avenging the deaths of fellow Muslims in Myanmar.

EWART: So what we have here, just to come back to the first point that you made is a situation really where this could be construed as a warning shot across the bows to the government in Myanmar that they if don't do more to tackle the particular the Rohingya issue, but also other ethnic issues in their country. They run the risk that a group like RSO, could suddenly start to have an impact?

JONES: Absolutely, that's the point to drive home.

EWART: And do you see any signs that the Myanmar government is listening to this kind of message?

JONES: There don't seem to be any steps taken recently that would suggest that any major change of policy is underway, because the most important policy that the government needs to do is acknowledge the Rohinyga as citizens of Myanmar, not just as an immigrant group, which is how they referred to them now. And until that recognition takes place, you can't hope for protection of this minority as a people.

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