Dispossession of the Rohingya Land: Militarization of Land Ownership


According to documents reviewed by the Myanmar Now news agency, a total of more than 700 acres in the townships of Maungdaw and Buthidaung are going to be transferred to the military-run No. 1 Border Guard Police Division Office. The Myanmar Junta has begun formally handing ownership of Rohingya community’s destroyed or occupied lands, since 2017, to the nation’s border security forces, which can be viewed as the latest blow to the Rohingya population in the Rakhine state. As a result, after the transfer process is finished, the Rohingyas who fled Myanmar in 2017 leaving behind their land will no longer be the proprietors of the assets there. However, upwards of 200 acres of Myin Hlut are currently controlled by the No. 9 Border Guard Force of the junta, along with more than 150 acres marked as the confined area occupied by the directive of the most recently “elected” National League of Democracy (NLD). The effort to militarize the lands shows hubris, defiance, and unreasonable shortsightedness of the junta toward the future of the region. The land was the last of the hopes that drives the Rohingya community to get back to their homeland. By taking it away, the junta simultaneously is destroying the aspiration of the Rohingyas as well as the security of Bangladesh and the subsequent region.

Not a New Issue of Agitation, Brawl, and Harassment

The Rohingyas have always been particularly vulnerable because they have never received formal recognition from military regimes. A citizenship law was passed in 1982, and the Rohingya Muslims’ citizenship was abruptly revoked. The Rohingyas were not only denied access to fundamental rights like healthcare, education, and the right to own property but they were also left open to abuse and exploitation.

The Maungdaw-based Border Immigration Headquarters, also known by its Burmese acronym Na Sa Ka, which imposed limits on their freedom of travel as well as their ability to get married and have children, subjected the Rohingya to ever-worsening persecution in the 1990s. Thousands of Rohingya were also robbed of their land and other assets, which were then used to build “model villages” for immigrants from central Myanmar, ethnic Rakhine, and other primarily Buddhist minorities.

Why Put Shed on It Now?

The Myanmar junta has been instigating Bangladesh for many years by creating the Rohingya crisis more critical. Although the history of the Rohingya genocide is quite old, the expulsion of a large number of people in 2017 created a situation no one ever experienced it. Through this, Myanmar was able to re-impose the Rohingya crisis on Bangladesh. More than 1.2 million Rohingya people now live in Bangladesh in the continuation of such incidents at different times. Despite the humanitarian crisis in different camps, the Rohingya people are creating various challenges in Bangladesh’s security, economy, environment and other issues. Against this backdrop, militarization of lands of the Rohingya population will ignite new crisis in the region and in the locality as well.

Actions Taken by the Military to Grab the Land Possession

Maj-Gen Soe Tint Naing, the regime’s deputy minister of home affairs, authored to Zaw Than Thin, the ministry’s permanent secretary, in September to solicit permission to revoke a “regional directive” that Maungdaw’s General Administration Department (GAD) had issued two years prior that limited the implementation of lands abandoned by “Bengalis”—the term used by Government agencies to invalidate the ethnic identity of the Rohingya. The repudiation, according to him in the statement, was done to “officially register the ownership of those lands under the No. 1 Border Guard Police Division Office.”

Later, on October 8, the Rakhine State Administration under the junta was given the go-ahead to repeal by the Ministry of Union Government Office. The official cancellation of a tardy attempt by Myanmar’s deposed civilian government to stop the illegal occupation of land owned by Rohingya who were forced to flee military ‘clearance operations’ in 2017 was marked by this action, which was significant despite not being a surprise. The then-NLD civilian administration gave the Maungdaw Township GAD instructions to issue a decree on February 15, 2020, prohibiting ‘individuals not linked with [the affected land] from living, growing crops, and farming there.’

Tampering with Evidence: No Way Back for the Rohingyas

The military’s attempts to drive the Rohingya out of northern Rakhine State were seen firsthand by Nay Myo Thet, a 32-year-old army captain who left his station in Buthidaung Township earlier this year to join the Civil Disobedience Movement. He believed that in order to remove the evidence, the military demolished the area. He meant the dead bodies and the charred remains of the burned-out homes as evidence.

Uprooting the Rohingya’s by all Means: Root of this Atrocities

According to the junta’s plan, the properties once owned by the Rohingya minority would soon be officially taken over by the border guard stations the army established at the time. This also comprises 103.40 acres in Zin Paing Nyar, 9.98 acres in Ah Lel Chaung, 120.06 acres in Myo Thu Gyi (Yar Zar Bi), and 205.21 acres in Aung Sit Pyin. Nay Myo Thet claims that by taking this action, the military, which has no interest in taking responsibility for its treatment of the Rohingya, which it views as fully justifiable, has essentially put an end to the subject.

What is the impact?

A prolonged or distorted repatriation will be experienced by the Rohingya community. Their hopes will be shattered. However, due to the regime’s most recent action, survivors of the Rohingya genocide would be required to live in concentration camps, similar to those established for evacuated Rohingya people in Sittwe, the state capital, even if they are ever permitted to rejoin to Myanmar. Besides there will be ramifications on the bilateral, regional and global level which will be described in the following sections.

Deteriorating Relations in the Bilateral Domain

Mutual trust and respect between the two countries will be heavily affected since the militarization process will invigorate the tensions between the two states. Local communities will also loose trust on the Myanmar junta on the issue of resolving the Rohingya crisis. However, the bilateral agreements that were reached on the Rohingya issue; Myanmar’s regime has consistently violated them. Besides, the continuation of the trilateral talks that started with China will be at stake. The recent crisis will prolong new approaches to initiating agreements or the implementation of previous agreements.

Instability in the Region

The infiltration of Myanmar’s population inside Mizoram and the new influx into Bangladesh should also be carefully monitored. Despite Myanmar’s strong bilateral ties with India, the Mizoram issue is giving rise to a new kind of geopolitical situation. Hence, the international community and important global powers will rethink Myanmar. In particular, the country’s reckless and provocative behavior poses a threat to peace and security in the entire region. Even Myanmar’s friendly countries should review the junta government anew. Because Myanmar’s internal and aggressive border activities will create such an unstable situation in the region that everyone will have to pay for it.

Global level

At the international level too, the junta government is under a lot of pressure. Indonesia and Malaysia have also put pressure on them within their close ally ASEAN. The pressure will be on the rise. The junta government was not invited to several ASEAN meetings. Previously, there was sanction on the regime. It will continue. The trial of Hague will be bolstered.

Myanmar’s aggression needs to be dealt with diplomatically on a larger scale. Regionally, we also have to highlight that Myanmar is trying to prolong the beginning of the Rohingya repatriation by creating a new crisis one after the other instead of resolving it. It is also important to continue the measures that are being taken bilaterally. While India and China have geopolitical and economic interests in Myanmar, there should be continuous diplomatic efforts for their engagements with the issue of Rohingya repatriation.

– Syed Raiyan Amir is a Research Associate at the KRF Center for Bangladesh and Global Affairs (CBGA). Previously, he served as a Research Assistant at United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and International Republican Institute (IRI).

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