Rohingya Arakanese Muslims. The Rohingyas have been an international refugee issue at Myanmar-Bangladesh border since 1978. The Muslims coming from outside in the medieval period began settling in Arakan constituting today the second largest religious group, next only to the Buddhist Maghs. The Muslims in the region may be divided into five distinct communities, namely Roayingya, Jamboyika, Kamanchi, Zerbadi and Dinnet. The Roayingyas are today generally known as Rohingyas. Opinions vary as to the ethnic origin of the Rohingyas. An assumption goes that they are the progeny of persons migrating from the Chittagong region and marrying Arakanese women.

A serious communal riot took place in 1942 when as high as one lakh Rohingyas were reported to have been killed. During World War II the Rohingyas formed a Mujahid force with the help of arms left behind by the retreating Japanese, but they did not succeed much against the Maghs. During U Nu regime, the Burma Territorial Force (BTF) composed of almost 90 percent Maghs, let loose a reign of terror on the Rohingyas accusing them of having questionable nationality. The resistance put up by the Rohingyas against the repression persuaded the Burmese government to grant them some rights and recognise their nationality. In the 1940s and especially after the independence of Burma in 1948, brewing tensions between the Arakanese Buddhist Maghs and the Muslim Rohingyas resulted in the exodus of a large number of Rohingyas to Chittagong.

The Rohingyas once again faced repression and mass eviction in 1962. General Ne Win overthrew the Prime Minister U Nu and declared Burma a socialist state to be ruled by the Burma Socialist Programme Party composed of the army officers. Arakan was made a Buddhist-ruled federal state. General Ne Win's sectarian policy made the conflict between the Buddhist Maghs and Muslim ethnic groups including the Rohingyas even more acute. His racial discrimination and strong Burmese chauvinist policy to suppress ethnic movements created for Bangladesh a serious human crisis. Several lakhs of Rohingyas took refuge in Bangladesh. General Ne Win launched in 1978 the Nagamin Dragon Operation to suppress the ethnic uprising. Thousands of Rohingyas were killed indiscriminately for their allegiance to the Arakan National Liberation Party. Bangladesh was not in a postion to provide them with food and shelter. The Bangladesh government sought intervention of the international community for a speedy resolution of the crisis. Pressures from UN and other international forums persuaded the Ne Win government to agree to take back the refugees. According to the agreement between the two countries, most of the Rohingya refugees were repatriated between 6 October and 24 December in 1979. However 15,000 refugees were left behind in Bangladesh.

Ne Win promulgated in 1982 a new nationality law under which all Rohingyas, who had entered the country after 1983, were declared as floating nationals without a right to acquire property, political privileges and the right of free movement in the country. This set in motion a regime of serious repression on the Rohingyas afresh. Ne Win's policy of repression once again created a huge influx of Rohingya refugees into Bangladesh.

In the general elections held in May 1990, candidates of the National League for Democracy led by Aung San Suu Kyi won 392 of the 485 seats in Myanmar parliament. The Rohingya Muslims of Arakan supported Suu Kyi's candidates and they won all the 23 seats of Arakan. Instead of transferring power to Suu Kyi, Myanmar's new military ruler General Sau Maung nullified the election results and interned Suu Kyi. General Sau Maung's army let loose a reign of terror in Arakan against the Rohingyas. By 26 June 1991, as many as 250,877 Rohingyas were driven from Arakan into Bangladesh. They took shelter in Cox's Bazar area of the Chittagong region. This again drew international attention making way for bilateral negotiations. The governments of Myanmar and Bangladesh signed an agreement on 28 April 1992 under which the former was to repatriate all the refugees within 6 months beginning on 6 May 1992. About 22,000 refugees were reported waiting at Kutupalong and Nayapara camps in Cox's Bazar district for repatriation.

The Myanmar government recognised 7000 of the 22,000 refugees as their citizens. About 5000 of them however refused to be repatriated apprehending repression on their return. In fact, the repatriation remained suspended for 16 months following violent clashes in 1997 between the anti-repatriation groups and the Bangladesh police. Repatriation resumed on 25 November 1998; the Myanmar authorities have been sending a list of 50 cleared refugees per month and a repatriation commission jointly set up by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the Bangladesh government for action then scrutinises the list. At the beginning 28 national and international non-government organisations (NGOs) were involved in providing emergency food, water, shelter, sanitation and medical assistance to the Rohingya refugees. After the repatriation began some of the camps were closed down and 14 of the NGOs terminated their programmes by 1995.

It is generally believed that the internal political crisis in Myanmar has given rise to the Rohingya crisis again and again. Except the Rohingya issue there is practically no other political problem between the two countries. It is recognised that an early resolution of this vexing problem is essential to end the deteriorating law and order situation, environmental degradation, smuggling, public discontent on the border. [KM Mohiuddin]