Rohingya conflict dims Myanmar's business picture


The military's crackdown on minority Muslims is throwing a damper on investment

BANGKOK/YANGON In the shiny new shopping malls and trendy restaurants of Myanmar's commercial hub of Yangon there is no sense of the fear and mayhem gripping the country's western Rakhine State.

The only focus on what the United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres labeled an emerging "humanitarian catastrophe" are headlines and lurid photos emblazoned across local newspapers about threats to the country from a new transnational "Bengali terrorist" organization.

"Bengali" is a term widely used in Myanmar to refer to the Rohingya minority Muslim community as interlopers.

The militant group, which calls itself the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, launched coordinated attacks on Aug. 25 that killed 12 government security personnel across some 30 police facilities and an army base in northern Rakhine. Nearly 80 crudely armed militants died in the attacks, and the military claims to have killed nearly 380 "suspected" members in the ensuing days.

A member of Myanmar's security forces escorts media on an organized visit to conflict areas in northern Rakhine State on Aug. 30. (Photo by Thurein Hla Htway)

Since then, "clearance operations" by security forces and paramilitaries have been in full force. The operations have included summary arrests, interrogations and executions, as well as the burning of hundreds of houses across at least 17 villages, according to satellite imagery released by Human Rights Watch. The violence and torchings, which the military has blamed on the Rohingya themselves, drove more than 76,000 refugees into neighboring Bangladesh in just over a week.

Beyond the headlines, local media coverage of the ferocious military response to the Rakhine attacks has been approving, and either hostile or indifferent toward the plight of the Rohingya in this overwhelmingly Buddhist country.

In international circles, by contrast, the Rakhine crisis has drawn fresh condemnation of the government's extreme response and has further eroded the image of the country's de facto leader, State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi."

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