Military brutality resets the Myanmar view towards the Rohingya

Scores of people have died as Myanmar’s military has stepped up its security operations against pro-democracy, anti-coup demonstrators in the country.

Peaceful demonstrations have been met with live rounds, tear gas, and gangland-style executions on the streets of the country’s largest cities.

And while the population of Myanmar say they will continue to fight against the brutality and totality of military rule, there has been an ongoing change of heart for many would-be protesters over the treatment in years past of the country’s ethnic-Muslim population by the military.

“I am feeling very bad for my stupidity. I thought that Rohingya people are as bad as they were portraited by the military,” said Thet Naing Win, 46, a private tuition teacher in Yangon.

“I thought that people in some ethnic areas don’t actually look for peace and stability.”

However, for Naing Win and many other Myanmar citizens, the pro-democracy protests against the military has been a chance to reflect on the military’s persecution of the Rohingya which has been called a genocide by various rights groups.

“We were misinformed about the people in ethnic areas every single day under the previous juntas, we were stupid enough to have been blinded even we have internet access and social media over a past decade,” Naing Win told Thai Enquirer.

Others shudder, pondering that if the military were not afraid to kill native Burmese in Yangon what kind of crimes would be committed in inaccessible native areas, away from the eyes of the world.

“Security forces do not hesitate to commit crimes against civilians here in mainland Myanmar, therefore there is no way they refrain from violence against Rohingya or people in ethnic areas,” said May Hnin Win, 24, a student at Yangon’s University of Medicine.

“But I failed to stand against such horrible injustice. I ignored the suffer and the pain of these people.”

(FILES) In this file photo taken on October 14, 2016, smouldering debris of burned houses are seen in abandoned Muslim village in Warpait in Rakhine state during intensified government security operations following attacks on border police outposts by Muslim militants. Myanmar’s military chief and other top brass have been accused by Amnesty International of crimes against humanity for overseeing a “systematic” attack against Rohingya Muslims, according to a report by the rights group on June 27 calling for prosecution at the International Criminal Court. / AFP PHOTO / STR

An opportunity to reset

Even though the current political situation is fluid and no outcome is certain, experts and analysts tell Thai Enquirer that the current crisis is a chance to reset the population’s attitude towards what the United Nations calls the world’s most persecuted ethnic group.

“People in mainland Myanmar generally blamed the armed groups whenever something bad happened in ethnic areas in the past and had not noticed there are layers of systematic persecution,” said Sai Aung Tun Lwin, a Yangon-based analyst and a senior researcher at the Pyiduangsu Institute.

“They are now experiencing the things that people in ethnic areas have been facing on a daily basis such as indiscriminate shooting and arrests, and start realizing these things could also happen to any of them at any point,” Sai told Thai Enquirer.

While Sai said that things, “could not be changed overnight,” it was definitely a step in the right direction.

Khin Zaw Win, director of Tampadipa Insitute, told Thai Enquirer that at the very least people were beginning to call the Rohingya by their preferred self-label instead of the military prescribed ‘Bengali’ moniker which strips the Rohingya of their claims to citizenship.

In the past, the government would call the muslim-minority population Bengalis to assert that they were from India or Bangladesh and not a native Myanmar ethnicity.

“We are seeing people start calling them Rohingya and expressing the regrets for ignoring the atrocities against the Rohingya. It is a very important step for building a harmonious society. The chance present itself amid the chaos,” said Zaw Win.

“I would say it is a once-in-a-lifetime chance that we have to grab,” he added.

Naing Win, the private tutor from Yangon, said that the cycle of violence by the military has come full circle but all the people of Myanmar must unite to fight off the shackles of military-rule.

“Now our turn has come. Persecution and bullying has come to us directly, and we just have woken up. Our turn has come because we had failed to stand against injustice in ethnic areas. So from now on, I would never tell my students again that Rohingya are bad or ethnic people just look for war,” he said.

“From now on, I will stand firmly to against any injustice and rights violations.” 

With input from our correspondent in Yangon.

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