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The Rohingya of Arakan, Myanmar PDF Print E-mail

Rohingyas are the indigenous people of Rohang, the ancient name of Arakan, Burma, now Myanmar. Numbering around three million, half of their populations have lived in diaspora since the military Junta had cancelled their citizenship in 1988. More than ten thousands of them have found their way to Malaysia, while the bulk are in the sub-continent and in the Middle East. FGN staff, Zakaria Abdullah and Ghazali Yasin, have interviewed  Abul Faiz K. Jilani, Executive Committee member of Rohingya National Organization (RNO), chief coordinator of National League for Democracy  (NLD) for Maungdaw Township and author of the book, "The Rohingyas of Arakan: their quest for justice." Following is the result of the interview.
FGN:  What is the current situation of Rohingyas inside Arakan?
AFKJ:  For now, the harsh method of the militarization over the Rohingyas have subsided, thanks to the international pressure upon the ruling military Junta. But the dehumanization policy applied on the Rohingyas through the NaSaKa or Village Military Committee, which keep strictly in check the movements of residents.

FGN:    What are the functions of NaSaKa?
AFKJ: They act as the overall 'guardian' of the people, for all intents and purposes. For instance, to go to another village, one has to obtain a "safe conduct pass" which has to be paid for. The NaSaKa also determine which pairs are fit to get married through series of un-Islamic rituals and high fees for approval of a marriage contract. Mosque construction is forbidden and repairs of old ones have to be approved by the NaSaKa with a prescribed fee. All transactions carried out through them have to be paid for.

FGN:   What kind of 'legal' document or identity being issued to the Rohingyas?
AFKJ:  For the Rohingyas, they are issued a White temporary residence identity card, while the Rakhines (citizens) get a Pink one. Therefore, Rohingyas are easily recognized through it. Pink identity cards can go anywhere, even to Yangoon, but the White one is limited to only one village.

FGN:  Are Rohingyas allowed to work in government projects?
AFKJ:    Yes. In fact our people are the first choice for all manual jobs. Unfortunately, not only that Rohingya laborers are not paid for any wages, they have to provide their own equipment and food too!

FGN: How about lands and businesses, are Rohingyas allowed to own any?
AFKJ:   Rohingyas can till the lands they occupy but as non-citizens, lands are no longer their own. All their businesses have already been confiscated long time ago. Now, they have become wage earners in the former business they have laboriously set up.

FGN: Is there any armed group still existing in Arakan?
AFKJ:   No. The military Junta have confiscated all firearms and driven out all armed groups of Rohingyas from Arakan. The former Arakan-Rohingya National Organization (ARNO), Rohingya Solidarity organization (RSO), Arakan-Rohingya Islamic Front (ARIF), Rohingya Patriotic Front (RPF), etc. have all been driven out of the country.

FGN:  What happened and where are they now?
AFKJ:   After their camps were raided and all their firearms and equipment confiscated, most of them are now based in Bangladesh. They all have merged anew under the Rohingya National Organization (RNO) with Nurul Islam as its president and Dr. Mohammad Yunus the vice-president.

FGN:   Is there any prospect for them to regain self-determination through armed struggle?
AFKJ:  The prospect is bright as the military Junta is facing several oppositions internally.

FGN:   Do you have ties with other opposition groups, like the NLD (National League for Democracy)?
AFKJ:   We have strong ties with NLD and other progressive groups. For instance many of us have already been appointed as Chief Coordinators, in my case, for Maungdaw Township. Another Rohingya Member of Parliament under the National Democratic Party for Human Rights (NDPHR), Mohd Anwar @ Kyaw Min, is an Executive Committee member of CRPP (Committee Representing the People's Parliament). However, he was arrested and sentenced to 47 years in a notorious prison in Yangoon. His wife and two daughters were also arrested and sentenced to 17 years each. His three sons were able to escape and are now living under political asylum in Norway.

FGN:     Did you manage to make contacts with any governments and NGOs in the West and Europe?
AFKJ:   We do have contacts with a number of key personnel and officials of some nations in the West and Europe, including the USA. Our RNO president, Nurul Islam, in fact, has been in contact with some State Department officials. A number of countries in the European Union are also interested to offer various kinds of assistance aside from humanitarian.

FGN:     Do you have anything more to add?
AFKJ:   I just want to convey my gratitude to the government and people of Malaysia for extending exemplary humanitarian assistance to our refugees who have found their way to this beautiful Islamic country; and also to our very own permanent resident young lawyer, Sawmee Ullah, who have been assisting me throughout my stay in Kuala Lumpur. In behalf of the downtrodden Rohingya people throughout the world, I would like to appeal through the Future Global Network for the Malaysians continued support and prayers until we regain eventually freedom from colonial bondage and oppression, to be able to chart our own destiny as a people.