Persecuted minority in Myanmar is escalating its armed insurgency

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The insurgent group announced its existence with a predawn attack on three Myanmar border guard posts. Hundreds of Rohingya militants, armed mainly with knives and slingshots, killed nine police officers and seized weapons and ammunition.

It was about time, Naing Lin, 28, said of the October attack near his village, Kyee Kan Pyin.

“The government is torturing us,” he said by phone this week. “The aim of the group is to protect our rights. That’s all. They are doing what they should do.”

The beginning of an armed resistance is just one of several developments that are reshaping the conflict over Myanmar’s persecuted Rohingya minority with potentially far-reaching consequences.

The group that attacked the border posts, Harakah al-Yaqin, is believed to have several hundred recruits, substantial popular support and ties to Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, according to a report by the International Crisis Group. Separately, there has been a surge of international humanitarian and political support for the Rohingya cause, mainly from Muslim countries that have cast the Rohingya as the Palestinians of Southeast Asia.

The combination threatens to internationalize and escalate a long-simmering conflict. The Myanmar government has responded to the attacks with a sweeping counterinsurgency campaign that witnesses and human rights groups say has included the killing of hundreds of civilians, the burning of villages and the systematic rape of women and girls.

In addition, some analysts fear that turning the Rohingya into a transnational Muslim cause could draw foreign jihadists of varying stripes to Myanmar, adding terrorism to an already combustible mix and giving the Myanmar military a convenient excuse for a draconian response.

But after decades of persecution and violence, to which the rest of the world largely responded with a shrug, some Rohingya say an armed response is overdue.

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