Muslims who live in Arakan (Rakhine) State, mostly in the northern area bordering on Bangladesh. Unlike other ethnic minorities, they are not recognized as citizens by the Burmese government, but are considered illegal aliens. Numbering around 1.4 million, they have been objects of systematic persecution by the Ne Win regime and the State Law and Order Restoration Council/State Peace and Development Council. In a classic "divide-and-rule" strategy, both military regimes have enlisted Arakanese Buddhists in attacks on Rohingya communities, and, after evicting the Muslims, allowed the Arakaneses Buddhists to occupy their lands. In a 1978 operation called Naga Min ("Dragon King"), the Tatmadaw swept through Rohingya areas in search of illegal aliens, forcing over 200,000 (some sources say 300,000) to flee to Bangladesh, where they were housed in refugee camps until largely repatriated under UN auspices. In 1991-1992, a similar operation resulted in the flight of around 280,000. In 2003, some 21,000 Rohingyas remained in Bangladesh refugee camps, and an estimated 100,000 were illegal aliens, not recognized by the Dhaka government, living outside the camps. A large number of Rohingyas live in other countries, especially Malaysia and the Middle East.
   The history of the Rohingyas is controversial because the Burmese government claims they are descended from Bengali residents of Chittagong District (now in eastern Bangladesh) who migrated into Arakan after the British annexed it in 1824-1826, and thus cannot be recognized as a legitimate Burmese ethnic nationality. A portion of northern Arakan was a part of British Bengal until 1937. Rohingya spokesmen claim their community is descended from Arabs and other migrants who settled on the Arakan coast as early as the ninth century CE. This contention is supported by historical scholarship showing that Muslim communities flourished in the Kingdom of Arakan (Rakhine) for many centuries before the coming of the British. Moreover, Arakan occupied areas of what is now Bangladesh during the 16th and 17th centuries.
   During the opening months of World War II, there was severe communal violence between Rohingyas and Arakanese Buddhists, the former supporting the British and the latter the Japanese-backed Burma Independence Army. After independence, mujahadin operating in northern Arakan tried to establish an autonomous state run under Islamic law. Yet antigovernment insurgency among Rohingyas has been on a comparatively small scale; in 1998, two factions of the Rohingya Solidarity Organization (RSO) and the Arakan Rohingya Islamic Front (ARIF), which operated from bases in Bangladesh, joined together to form the Arakan Rohingya National Organization (ARNO).
   See also Citizenship Law; Human Rights in Burma; Min Bin; Mrauk-U.

Historical Dictionary of Burma (Myanmar). . 2014.

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