KOTA KINABALU: A veteran Swedish journalist with over four decades of experience covering Myanmar and the East Asian region said Malaysian fighters might have already arrived in Myanmar to help Rohingya rebels, citing sources.
“The foreign fighters were described to me as ‘Malays’. But it’s not certain whether they are from Malaysia or southern Thailand,” said Bertil Lintner, a former Myanmar correspondent of the now-defunct Far Eastern Economic Review.
“It could be both or either. My source could not say for sure,” he told FMT.
This comes after authorities in Malaysia said it was possible that Malaysian citizens could be taking part in the armed struggle to help fellow Muslims fight religious persecution in the Rakhine region of Myanmar, where tens of thousands of Rohingya have fled their homes following attacks from the army.
Yangon has accused the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (Arsa) of provoking fresh violence in the region by attacking government posts, which the rebels claimed was a preemptive strike to protect the Rohingya.
The military backlash that followed included the burning of entire villages and killing of Rohingya civilians. More than 400,000 Rohingya were reported to have fled Rakhine state in what the UN agency for refugees called a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing”.
Lintner had written in Asia Times that Arsa “may have been able to recruit angry and desperate young men among the Rohingya in Rakhine state and refugee camps in Bangladesh”.
He said according to security analysts, there are also 150-odd foreigners among their ranks.
“Most of them are from Bangladesh, eight to 10 come from Pakistan, with smaller groups from Indonesia, (possibly) Malaysia and southern Thailand.
“Two are reportedly from Uzbekistan. Training held along the Myanmar-Bangladesh border areas have been carried out in part by older veterans of the Afghan wars,” he wrote.
FMT earlier reported that Malaysians planning to join the insurgency in Myanmar could enter the country through Bangladesh or Thailand.
Bangladesh seems to be the more viable route as it borders Rakhine, said an ethnic Rohingya leader in Kuala Lumpur.
A Malaysian entering Myanmar from Thailand would have to travel across the country to get to the other side where the fighting is taking place, a Bangkok-based conflict analyst had told FMT.
Lintner agreed that it would be easier to enter Myanmar from Bangladesh, which sits on Myanmar’s west side.
“The easiest way would be to fly to Bangladesh and then go down to the border,” he told FMT.
“That’s the way most people would take.”