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Many itching to join fight in Myanmar

 | September 7, 2017

A think tank says would-be mujahidin across Southeast Asia are stopped only by the Rohingya insurgents' inability to receive them.

Sydney-Jones-ipac-1

KOTA KINABALU: An Indonesian think tank has warned of the eagerness of many Southeast Asian citizens to join the Rohingya insurgents in their fight against Myanmar’s security forces.

The Jakarta-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (Ipac) said this was despite the insurgents’ apparent lack of a machinery to receive would-be fighters from neighbouring countries.

Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees have fled Myanmar’s Rakhine state to escape religious persecution and to avoid being trapped in the fighting between government troops and the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (Arsa).

Ipac said there was a strong desire among some Southeast Asians to go to Myanmar to fight but they could not find ways of getting to the trouble spots.

“I think many want to go,” Ipac director Sydney Jones told FMT.

“For example, thousands of Indonesians are reported to have signed up through the FPI (Islamic Defenders Front) and other such groups, but they have no channel for getting in.

“Arsa has not indicated that it wants any outside reinforcements. Inexperienced volunteers are likely to be more of a hindrance than a help to them.

“Border officials in Bangladesh and Myanmar are also likely to stop these would-be mujahidin.”

Ipac, in its recent report entitled “How Southeast Asian and Bangladeshi extremism intersect”, urged governments, journalists and NGOs across the region to “look for interventions that can strengthen local resistance to recruitment”.

The report also said the “wild card” could be the new armed Rohingya insurgency operating along the Bangladeshi-Myanmar border, first called Harekat al-Yakin (Faith Movement) and now Arsa.

“Indonesian and Malaysian mujahidin have long been interested in helping their persecuted brethren in Myanmar, but have had no good channel for doing so,” the report said.

The report also warned of the possibility of pro-Islamic State citizens of Southeast Asian countries inciting the Rohingya communities amidst them to return home and fight the Myanmar military.

“The existence of an armed group (Arsa) on the border mounting attacks on Myanmar security forces could inspire pro-IS groups in Bangladesh, Indonesia and Malaysia to do more systematic recruiting among their Rohingya communities to find individuals willing to carry out attacks on their own,” said the report.

Jones said she believed social media would be an important tool in the recruitment of Southeast Asians for the fight in Myanmar.

“In Indonesia, for example, there are appeals going out through social media and mobile phone apps,” she said. “But again, I don’t think there’s much likelihood of a mass exodus to Myanmar yet.

“More likely – and this is something police may have to be prepared for – is retaliatory violence against Buddhists at home.”

Scores of Malaysians were reported to be among 20,000 foreign fighters, mostly from the Gulf states, who went to Afghanistan to help the mujahidin resist the Soviet invasion in the 1980s.

The situation in Myanmar might be seen as another opportunity to help save fellow Muslims, this time from persecution and ethnic cleansing.

However, Jones said travelling to Myanmar now would not be as easy as going to Afghanistan in the 1980s.

“For Afghanistan, there was a well-oiled machine that supplied funding, tickets and other forms of assistance to would-be fighters,” she said.

“There is no such machinery ready to assist Southeast Asians to get to Myanmar to help the Rohingya.

“What Muslim civil society should be doing is lobbying their governments to accept as many Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh as they can manage because it is beyond Bangladesh’s capacity to cope with the exodus.”

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