Home / In Depth / A Simple Backgrounder to the Burmese/Thai Muslim Antagonism

A Simple Backgrounder to the Burmese/Thai Muslim Antagonism

The Islamism.net Exclusive – By Dr. Geoffrey Cook –

This is a brief article that is rewritten from the time of the tsunami of slightly over ten years ago. It shows that the Muslim and the Thai/Burmese Buddhist tension has been simmering for quite some time on the Korat Peninsula and those near East Bengal shared by Thailand, Myanmar (Burma) Buddhists and the Rohingya and Moton Muslims as well as in the Irrawaddy Burmese heartland. Bordering those two Buddhist-ruled countries — on the bottom part of the Peninsula — is the Federal (Islamic- dominated constitutional) Kingdom of Malaysia.

Approximately 3% of Burma is Islamic and 4.6% in Thailand. In checking the wires only Al Jazeera and the specialized blogs were addressing the Muslims’ plight in the vicinity at the time of initial composition (2004). Even today, although the conflict has reached the international news-gathering organizations, there is much that still has to be read between the lines deducing their current condition on mainland Southeast Asia.

There are three groups of Muslims in the country: The Royingya whose home is in the Arkan (now Rakhine) State next to the border with Bangladesh; the nomadic seafaring, ethnically non-Burmese but religiously Islamic people on the southern edge of Myanmar on the (Korat) Peninsula that straddles the border with the Thai Kingdom. These Moton number about 30,000. Finally, there are, also, urban elites of the Irrawaddy Delta who had immigrated into Myanmar during the Middle Ages (C.E.) and the British period. All are under great repression from the Military Junta Government and now pseudo-Burmese democratic and the Thai constitutional monarchy.


Those Urban Muslims are typically Middle to Upper Middle Class professionals. They have taken a disproportionate leadership position in the Democracy Movement in the first ten-years of the Twenty-first Century than their numbers within the Commonweal would indicate. This earned them an especial ire by the recent military regime. This group probably was impacted heavily by the typhoon a decade ago because of their scattered settlement patterns within the Delta.

At the time of first writing, I could not find a single article on the effects of the storm (the typhoon was close in time, but not related to the aforementioned tsunami which was caused by a massive undersea earthquake) on the considerable Islamic community from Burma and Thailand on the wires. Yet, there has been an active revolt of the Royingya Muslims in the jungle-forested Mountains on Rangoon’s border with Bangladesh. Also, there is another insurrection of the ethnically non-Burmese but religiously Islamic people on the southern edge of Myanmar on the Peninsula that straddles the border with the Thai Kingdom. The two rebellions of are not related.

Many noncombatants among the Royingya fled into the neighboring majority Muslim Bengal-speaking nation. This guerilla War still has not been resolved on the border region. The fighting has created great havoc in Myanmar and Thailand’s south. Over 250,000 civilians have fled the violence into Chittagong and Cox’s Bazaar across the boundary with Bangladesh asserting religious persecution in Myanmar. They were sheltered in more than 20 camps near the common frontier. The Royingyas became persona-non-gratis because they were blamed for many problems on the Eastern edge of the Bangladeshi nation by both the Bangladeshis and Burmese.

The UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) managed to repatriate most of them, but an estimated 20,000 destitute refugees remain in two camps between Cox’s Bazaar and the border in fear of religious persecution if they returned to Myanmar. They are sheltered in several camps near the border of their natal land.

Across their frontier, it is heavily mined on the Myanmar side to prevent crisscrossing border-line guerrilla activities. There is, also, an undisclosed number of Rohingyas living in villages outside the UNHCR supervised camps. In one village, Gumdrum, located only a few hundred meters from the Myanmar border, virtually everyone is of Rohingya descent. Some are recent arrivals, while others have settled here over the past three or four decades. According to officials, new refugees arrive daily.

On the Southern front, both the Thai and Burmese authorities have been attempting to assimilate another Muslim group, the Moton, into their overwhelmingly Buddhist national cultures to little success. As a source has told your author, “The [Burmese] Junta is systematically oppressing Muslims,” and this has led to violence, that is nearly at open rebellion.

The Motions make their living from the ocean, because of this they were able to recover rapidly from the 2004 tsunami, and in fact, were able to assist their nearby non-Islamic neighbors. Although the backend of the storm went over them, they still have a fighting chance to keep their religion and culture intact.


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