Rohingya Refugees Pour Into Bangladesh, And Many Question A Militant Group's Actions : Parallels In August, a Rohingya militant group attacked Myanmar security forces, leading to retribution. Since then, hundreds of thousands have fled to Bangladesh. Some believe the militants went too far.

Rohingya Refugees Pour Into Bangladesh, And Many Question A Militant Group's Actions

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We have the remarkable backstory this morning of a military assault on civilians. We've told you a lot about members of a minority group who've had to flee Myanmar. The country's military has forced out half a million Rohingya Muslims. The military's excuse is that it was attacked first. A militant group did strike security posts. And reporter Michael Sullivan spoke with men who took part in those attacks. He found them in Bangladesh.

MICHAEL SULLIVAN, BYLINE: In the early morning of August 25, Abul Kalam says, he was sitting in his village when the call came. That's not his real name. He asked that we call him that on a fear of retribution.

ABUL KALAM: (Foreign language spoken).

SULLIVAN: "Our commander ordered us to attack the Myanmar military post in our village," he says. One-hundred-fifty men armed with just two pistols seized from the security forces during a previous wave of attacks launched by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army - or ARSA - back in October. The rest of the men, he says, had only knives and homemade weapons. It didn't go well.

KALAM: (Foreign language spoken).

SULLIVAN: "Because we had so few weapons, about 50 of our men were killed," he says. The day after the unsuccessful attack, the 35-year-old religious teacher says the military burned his village. He and the other remaining fighters fled here with their families.

ABUL ALAM: (Foreign language spoken).

SULLIVAN: Twenty-five-year-old Abul Alam - that's what he's asked to be called also to protect his identity - tells a similar story about a similar attack with similar results in his village. Fifty-two Rohingya attackers killed, he says, out of about 200. Yet despite the heavy casualties, both men say the attacks were worth it. Abul Alam.

ALAM: (Foreign language spoken).

SULLIVAN: "The world community hasn't been able to help us," he says. "The Myanmar government hasn't listened to them, so we must fight, even if we die."


SULLIVAN: Twenty-year-old Dildar Begum, a name she chose out of fear of reprisal, isn't buying it. She's sitting with her 9-month-old boy in a brutally hot makeshift shelter in one of the new informal refugee camps. Her husband was recruited by ARSA and killed by the military in one of the August 25 attacks.

DILDAR BEGUM: (Foreign language spoken).

SULLIVAN: "I'm angry at the military for killing my husband," she says. "But I'm also angry at those who told my husband to go fight with them because now," she says, "my son is fatherless. My village is destroyed. And we have nothing. It was stupid," she says, "for them to attack like they did."

Another new arrival, Syed Alom, puts it even more bluntly.

SYED ALOM: (Foreign language spoken).

SULLIVAN: "If ARSA hadn't launched its attacks," he says, "the Myanmar military wouldn't have reacted as it did. And there wouldn't be nearly half a million new refugees," he says.

And lost in those stories is ARSA's own alleged brutality, murdering those it suspects of collaborating with Myanmar's military and members of other ethnic communities as well, according to human rights groups. The ARSA attacks and the military's response is a game changer, says longtime Myanmar analyst Elliot Brennan.

ELLIOT BRENNAN: Where we're at now is something new and very dangerous, an environment which is much more conducive to radicalization than we've ever had before.

SULLIVAN: Brennan doesn't see any clear links yet between international terror groups and ARSA even though its leader grew up in the Rohingya diaspora in Pakistan and went to school in Saudi Arabia. Still, he says...

BRENNAN: The propaganda machine of ARSA has been quite formidable as well. That's not something we particularly see amongst other ethnic armed groups and does suggest there has been an outside hand in there to some degree.

SULLIVAN: An outside hand that may be looking to get an inside track in a place that's resisted advances from jihadi groups in the past, he says, but might be more amenable, more desperate now. For NPR News, I'm Michael Sullivan in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh.


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