PETALING JAYA —- Some Rohingyas in Malaysia have been providing financial support to insurgent group Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (Arsa) in Myanmar to buy firearms and ammunition, FMT has learned.
“Arsa has been asking for and getting financial support from the Rohingya community in Malaysia,” a source well placed within the Rohingya community in Kuala Lumpur told FMT. “If they need money to buy weapons and ammunition, they will ask their compatriots in Malaysia for help in a WhatsApp group.”
Other sources say some Malaysians may already be in Myanmar to join the insurgents but Malaysian police say they have yet to detect this.
Arsa is active in northern Rakhine state fighting Myanmar security forces. The Myanmar government has declared Arsa a terrorist organisation, but the group denies the allegation, claiming that its purpose is to defend the rights of Rohingyas.
Zachary Abuza, a professor at the US-based National War College who focuses on Southeast Asian security issues, said apart from Malaysia, Saudi Arabia also hosted a WhatsApp support channel for Arsa.
“Arsa has a sophisticated online information campaign – using Facebook briefly, Twitter, Blogspot and several video-hosting websites – through which it distributes video and audio material in Rohingya, Bengali, Arabic, Urdu, English, and Burmese,” Abuza said in a publication this month by the Jamestown Foundation.
“For its own followers, Arsa’s leadership relies on closed WhatsApp channels to communicate and recruit.
“Its so-called ‘ARSA.G1’ channel is run out of Saudi Arabia. Another channel is run out of Malaysia.”
In August, Asia Times reported that “given the large size of the Rohingya diaspora of several hundred thousand in the Gulf, Pakistan and Malaysia, and the wave of international publicity focused on Myanmar’s brutal military crackdown late last year, the channeling of external assistance to the incipient insurgency is hardly surprising”.
Arsa is said to have a leadership council based in Saudi Arabia and local leaders with connections in Pakistan.
“It’s a support network that will almost certainly translate into donations from established businessmen in both countries,” said Asia Times.
It also quoted a senior regional intelligence official as saying that a “group of senior Rohingya clerics based in Saudi Arabia has already played an important role in fundraising and facilitating money transfers”.
According to the same official, Malaysia has emerged as both a major clearing house for Arsa funding and a transit point for the movement of militants because of its Muslim-friendly visa system.
Swedish journalist Bertil Lintner in September told FMT, citing sources, that some Malaysians might already be in Myanmar to join the insurgency.
However, Malaysian Inspector-General of Police Mohamad Fuzi Harun last week told FMT no Malaysian had been detected fighting security forces in Myanmar.
Although Arsa had announced that foreign fighters, especially those from international terror groups, were not welcome as their struggle was an internal issue, a source in Kuala Lumpur told FMT that Arsa did, in reality, welcome foreign fighters.
“Arsa does welcome and accept foreign fighters. The more the better,” said the source. “If 30,000 to 40,000 foreign fighters can come, that would help greatly.”
The Jakarta-based Institute of Policy Analysis for Conflict (Ipac), in a report, said thousands of Indonesians and Malaysians were gunning to wage ‘jihad’ in Myanmar for the Rohingya but the lack of a machinery to facilitate their travels was hampering them.
But help was available from Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh who smuggled potential foreign fighters into Myanmar, said the source in Kuala Lumpur.
“If Malaysians want to come and fight in Myanmar, five or six Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, not Rohingyas in Malaysia because their UNHCR refugee passports don’t let them to leave Malaysia, can help them enter the country and join Arsa.”
There are as many as 130,000 Rohingya refugees and migrant labourers in Malaysia with some 58,000 of them documented by the UNHCR. Security agencies have expressed concern that the armed conflict in Rakhine could attract militants from terror groups.
The UN has described the action of the Myanmar security forces as “a classic textbook example of ethnic cleansing”. More than 600,000 Rohingyas have fled from the state to neighbouring Bangladesh to escape religious and military persecutions in the country.
The Islamic State group has urged followers to wage jihad in Myanmar while Al-Qaeda has warned “punishment” over the plight of the Rohingyas. Two Islamic State-linked men, a Malaysian and an Indonesian, have been detained by the Malaysian authorities for trying to head to Myanmar to join the resistance.