Myanmar/Burma – On March 22, unrest between ethnic Rohingya Muslims and their Buddhist neighbors was reported in the town of Meiktila in the central Mandalay region of Burma. Several shops and a mosque were burned in the rioting. The Burmese military declared a state of emergency and deployed troops in the restive region where relations between the two communities are tenuous at best. In 2012 a similar outbreak of violence between Muslims and Buddhists in Rakhine State are reported to have led to the deaths of 200 people. The Rohingya Muslims, who are not recognized as Burmese citizens, originate from India and Bangladesh and practice a form of Sunni Islam that adopts elements of the Sufi tradition. These recent clashes in Burma are reported to be caused by ethnic tensions between Rohingyas and several non-Muslim ethnic groups in the region, and not caused by sectarian or militant jihadist organizations.
Pakistan – The Pakistani government announced that the general election for the Pakistani National Assembly will be held on May 11. Pakistan has seen significant sectarian and ethnic violence in recent months, a majority of which is reported to be linked to the actions of the Pakistani Taliban. The Pakistani Taliban may be seeking to disrupt the elections in order to destabilize Pakistan and frustrate a regional partner of NATO and Afghan forces in Afghanistan.
Philippines – On March 23, the southern Philippine militant organization the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) released Warren Rodwell, an Australian hostage it had captured. Rodwell was taken hostage in December 2010 by ASG. ASG is reported to have links with international jihadist movements, including al-Qaeda, and had demanded a ransom for the release of its Australian hostage. The Australian government does not follow a policy of paying kidnappers for the release of Australian hostages. The largest Muslim organization operating in the Philippines, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), recently signed a peace accord with the Philippine government, which had been fighting for over three decades, in exchange for greater autonomy for the Muslim-majority regions of the southern Philippines. ASG has not participated in the peace accords and is hostile to both the Philippine government and the MILF. It is yet to be determined why ASG released its Australian hostage, although it may be a sign that ASG is open to working towards cessation of hostilities with the Philippine military and its southern Philippine rivals.
Paul Ashley is the Senior Counter-Terrorist Analyst at 361 Security