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Myanmar official compares Rohingya militant attack to 9/11

Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar at a Bangladesh refugee camp. (AP: AM Ahad)

By Liam Cochrane
April 27, 2017

A top official in Myanmar has compared an attack last year by Muslim militants that killed nine police officers and sparked a brutal army crackdown to America's experience on September 11.

But a leading researcher in Buddhist-majority Myanmar says the army's heavy-handed response to the new insurgent threat has only increased the risk of radicalisation amongst one of the world's most persecuted minorities.

In October a Saudi-backed militant group of Rohingya Muslims — called Harakah al-Yaqin or Faith Movement — launched its first ever attack on the Myanmar-Bangladesh border, killing police and stealing weapons.

The resulting "clearance operation" by the military has led to accusations of extrajudicial killings, systematic rape and widespread arson, in what the UN has called possible "crimes against humanity" and Malaysia called "genocide". 

But Myanmar's Minister for Information has rejected the criticisms.

"This is like 9/11 in America, we were targeted and attacked in a huge way," Pe Myint said. 

"But the media is neglecting this and are only emphasising and reporting the counter-attacks, and by looking at the humanitarian point of view," he said in an interview this week.

The Reuters news agency released mobile phone footage on Tuesday showing the aftermath of the army crackdown — dead bodies in a field, moaning survivors and the charred human remains inside a burned house.

Heavy-handed tactics may backfire, analyst says

Rohingyas who have fled to Bangladesh have told horrific stories of soldiers killing children while gang raping their mothers and locking people inside houses that are then torched. 

About 70,000 Rohingyas fled to makeshift camps after the violence, just the most recent flair up in a long history of persecution.

Rohingya Muslims are denied citizenship in Myanmar, which considers them illegal migrants from Bangladesh, and most live in poverty under a form of state-sanctioned apartheid. 

"Clearly Myanmar and its security forces have an obligation to ensure security and stability and to respond to such an attack, however, this is not a license to indiscriminately attack a civilian population," Richard Horsey, an independent political analyst based in Yangon who has worked for the UN and the International Crisis Group, said.

He said the army's tactics may backfire. 

"From the perspective of counter-insurgency and counter-radicalisation, the response of the security forces has been very unhelpful," said Mr Horsey. 

"It's likely to make the situation worse, to increase the risks of radicalisation, and to increase the distrust between the Muslim community in that area and the Government."

Aung San Suu Kyi criticised for response

Just before the October attack, the Government led by Aung San Suu Kyi invited a special commission headed by former UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon to provide recommendations about the ethnic tensions. 

The Commission produced an interim report last month but it's work has largely been overshadowed by the militant attack and resulting crackdown. 

Many have criticised Ms Suu Kyi for not speaking out to defend the Rohingyas, while others have noted that she has no control over the still-powerful military and risks alienating her core Buddhist supporters. 

"This is a situation that's been festering for many decades ... an almost intractable problem that's been inherited by this Government, it's not the creation of this Government," Mr Horsey said.

"It will take a huge amount of effort and political investment to successfully implement those recommendations, some of which will not be easy at all."

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