In Troubled Rakhine State, Focus Turns to Mountains  

By The Irrawaddy 27 June 2017

YANGON — The Mayu mountains in northwestern Rakhine State have become the focus of fresh reports of armed activity in the troubled region, as government and intelligence sources claim the hills are sheltering militants.

Security forces conducting clearance operations in the mountainous area on the borders of Buthidaung and Maungdaw townships on June 20-21, found a suspected militant camp which was being used to try to recruit and train people in nearby Muslim Rohingya villages, according to the state-run Global New Light of Myanmar last week.

The security forces killed three suspected militants hiding in a man-made tunnel during the operation, according to the report, which claimed the killings were in “self-defense.” Homemade weapons, two packs of gunpowder, two coils of wire, and dozens of walkie-talkies were found in the operation, according to the June 22 article.

The government also claimed last week that interrogations of suspects had indicated that another tunnel, 110-foot in length, was dug by militants in a western part of the mountain range during April and May.

An Asian intelligence source who asked for anonymity has claimed armed training sessions have been carried out in the mountains of the region over a considerable period, and that militants were “regrouping” in the area.

Militant recruitment of local leaders began in 2013, according to the source, followed by the training of villagers a year later in both Bangladesh and northern Rakhine State.

“Training was in small batches to avoid attention, a village at a time, so members would not know the identities of other trainees, primarily in the hills of the Mayu range along the border of Maungdaw and Buthidaung townships, as well as possibly in the compounds of some large houses in villages,” the source said.

“Hundreds” of militants, including some of foreign origin, were active along the Rakhine-Bangladesh border, according to the source, who claimed there had been “significant funding and donations” from Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and other gulf countries for Bangladesh and Myanmar-based Muslim militant groups.

The existence or extent of foreign elements in the region is still largely a subject of speculation, with reports remaining difficult to confirm.

On May 4, Myanmar police said two Pakistani nationals—along with two locals—died in an explosion as they tried to assemble an improvised explosive in Buthidaung. It is not known how the men’s nationality was identified and there was no further information.

The Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), previously named the Faith Movement, or Harakah al-Yaqin (HaY), which claimed responsibility for the October 9 2016 attack on three border posts that killed nine police officers, has denied links with any international terrorist group.

However an International Crisis Group (ICG) report on the conflict released in December last year stated that a number of persons of Rohingya heritage in the Middle East were allegedly involved in the event.

The report also stated that HaY was led by a committee of Rohingya émigrés in Saudi Arabia, and seemed to be receiving funds from the Rohingya diaspora and major private donors in Saudi Arabia and the Middle East.

Myanmar expert Bertil Lintner wrote in The Irrawaddy in December that one of the key leaders of the 9 October attack was said to be a Pakistani national named Abdus Oadoos Burmi. He was reportedly born in Pakistan to parents from Rakhine State and had been linked to organizations affiliated with al Qaida, Lintner wrote.

Prior to the attack, Oadoos Burmi appeared in videos on social media showing armed men speaking in the local dialect spoken by Rohingya Muslims. The attack triggered a brutal army crackdown and some 74,000 Rohingya—most of whom were stateless and had already been stripped of their rights—have fled Rakhine to Bangladesh since the security operations began, according to UN estimates.