By Kyaw Ye Lynn
Muslims in Myanmar have condemned recent fatal attacks on police station outposts in troubled western Rakhine State which the government has blamed on a little-known extremist group.
About 40 people -- including nine police, four soldiers and 26 suspected attackers -- were killed following attacks on three police station outposts in Maungdaw and Yathay Taung townships early Sunday.
The areas are predominantly occupied by the country's stateless Rohingya Muslim population -- described by the United Nations as one of the world's most persecuted minority groups -- although none of the assailants have been identified.
Myanmar’s government said Friday night that the raids that killed 9 police officers were conducted by the Aqa Mul Mujahidin organization, which it described as being affiliated with the Rohingya Solidarity Organization (RSO), a shadowy extremist group that takes its name from the Rohingya.
“The attacks in Maungdaw Township were systematically planned in advance over a long period of time, assisted by foreign funding and the support of members of foreign terrorist organizations,” said a statement from the Myanmar President’s Office.
Though most experts believe the RSO’s continued existence is a myth, the government has classified it as an extremist group and officials blame it for recent attacks on border areas.
A former Rohingya lower house lawmaker told Anadolu Agency Friday that RSO had been extinguished long ago.
“The Bangladeshi government cracked down on the RSO two decades ago upon the request of Myanmar government, ”said Shwe Maung, who from 2011-16 represented Maungdaw.
He added that the government had long blamed the RSO for the area’s problems, in an effort to darken the Rohingya name so that they could further persecute and oppress them.
“Since then, the RSO has stopped functioning and no activities by the group have been recorded,” Shwe Maung said in an email.
According to the government, the Aqa Mul Mujahidin’s leader, identified as Havistoohar, previously attended a six-month Taliban training course in Pakistan and has four sisters and one brother living in Saudi Arabia.
The President’s Office said the group intended to spread propaganda by disseminating video files on the Internet and via social networks, in line with the methods of terrorist organizations such as the Taliban, al-Qaeda and Daesh, in order to attract greater foreign support and funding from domestic and foreign extremists.
Police confirmed that the 45-year-old Havistoohar appeared in the video file that has gone viral on social media.
The group received “significant” financial support from “extremist individuals in some Middle Eastern countries”, the statement said, adding that the funding was provided “secretly” through contacts between individuals.
“I have never heard this group,” former MP Shwe Maung told Anadolu Agency in an email Saturday.
“I also never heard the group leader’s name,” he added.
Muslim organizations in Myanmar have condemned the fatal attacks on police in Rakhine.
Wunna Shwe, joint-secretary of the Yangon-based Islamic Religious Affairs Council Myanmar, said that such violent attacks are totally unacceptable no matter who carries them out.
“We, Myanmar Muslims, strongly condemn the attackers,” he told Anadolu Agency by phone Saturday.
“We will never support such attempts as terrorism never solves any problem,” he stressed.
In 2012, violence between the local Buddhist and Muslim communities in Rakhine -- one of the poorest regions in Myanmar -- left around 57 Muslims and 31 Buddhists dead, some 100,000 people displaced in camps and more than 2,500 houses burned -- most of which belonged to Rohingya.
The state is home to around 1.2 million Rohingya, who have long been officially labeled as “Bengali” -- a term suggesting they are illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh -- and denied citizenship.