This time of year, over the verdant paddies, deforested hills and tea-brown waterways of Rakhine State, every molecule of air seems to swell to bursting, and it’s a relief when the pressure plummets and the dark skies unleash their torrents.
The rains serve as something of an enforced half-time in the conflict between the insurgent group the Arakan Army and Myanmar’s armed forces, the Tatmadaw: at some point, the monsoons make it untenable to maintain full-scale hostilities, and the number of clashes dips. It is especially needed this year. In Rakhine State, the first half of 2019 has seen a severe escalation in fighting. The clashes have displaced tens of thousands, and left scores dead.
The Arakan Army is battling for autonomy from the Central Burmese state, which it views as an illegitimate colonising presence. In 2016 and 2017, Rakhine State was the site of a genocidal purge of the Rohingya, a Muslim people who were formerly the majority in the far north-west. In this new Arakan Army–Tatmadaw conflict, both Muslims and Buddhists are contributing to the body count. Civilians have been caught in the crossfire – and landmines don’t discriminate.
This is a review from Australian Foreign Affairs 6: Our Sphere of Influence. To read the full issue subscribe or buy the issue.