By Jahnvi Upreti
Thousands marched in Yangon, Myanmar, in support of the military, which caused Rohingya people to flee the country on Sunday, Oct. 29, ABC reported.
“Only if the military is strengthened will (Myanmar’s) sovereignty be secured,” said Zagara, a senior Buddhist nationalist monk who participated in the march, according to ABC.
There is tension between Buddhist and Rohingya citizens in Myanmar, according to CNN. Rohingya Muslims are a minority within the primarily Buddhist population.
Although this tension has existed for decades, violence reached a new high on Aug. 29, when Rohingya militants attacked Myanmar government forces, according to The Guardian.
The government has since retaliated with a “clearance operation” to systematically remove Rohingya residents from Myanmar, according to CNN.
The ongoing operation has systematically killed thousands of Rohingya Muslims and caused more than 600,000 to flee to Bangladesh so far, CNN reported.
The government does not recognize Rohingya Muslims as citizens, according to CNN. It denies Rohingya Muslims access to education, housing areas and support from local law enforcement.
The Rohingya people have historically avoided violence, despite their treatment by the government and Buddhists, according to The Guardian. However in October 2016, Rohingya Muslims began to fight back when the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army announced itself as a militant group. The group, based in the Bangladeshi mountains, fights for Rohingya Muslims’ liberation from Buddhist persecution.
ARSA is fighting for Rohingya Muslims who claim to have suffered at the hands of the military, CNN reported. Refugees claim they have been tortured or burned alive. The government of Myanmar denies the claims.
The government stated that it is identifying and punishing only the Rohingya insurgents that serve as a threat to the security forces, according to ABC. It also claims the Rohingya have burnt their own villages down in order to perpetuate the image that the government is evil, and the only individuals being killed are terrorists, according to BBC.
The government recognized workers who attempt to help Rohingya Muslims as helping terrorists, The Guardian reported. Many aid workers have relocated or pulled out of Myanmar as a result.
The president of Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi, has been criticized on her response to the situation, according to CNN. Some had hoped that electing the Nobel Peace Prize winner would have abated instead of resurged ethnic tensions.
“It is a little unreasonable to expect us to solve the issue in 18 months, the situation in Rakhine has been such since many decades. It goes back to pre-colonial times,” she said in defense of her actions, according to Asian News International.
It is speculated Suu Kyi is hesitant to speak against military because military officials make up 25 percent of parliament and could hold more power than her, according to ABC.
Rohingya refugees are pouring into Bangladesh, and Suu Kyi has yet to delineate her next action. The persecution in Myanmar will only perpetuate if divisions continue.