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Rakhine conflict changes Myanmar's game

International outcry over Rohingya crackdown puts fresh pressure on Suu Kyi

A group of Rohingya men pray at a mosque in Baw Du Pha IDP camp, near Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine State, where around 4,000 Muslims have been confined since 2012. (Photo by Carlos Sardina Galache)

SITTWE, Myanmar -- The escalating military crackdown on Rohingya Muslims in northern Rakhine State, on Myanmar's western border with Bangladesh, signifies the first major crisis for the fledgling government of de facto leader and State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi. Of the myriad issues facing Suu Kyi, Rakhine -- and related allegations of military abuses, displacement, destruction of villages and even "ethnic cleansing" -- has the greatest potential to damage her international image and the country's successful emergence on the world stage.

A sweeping operation to root out Muslim militants in northern Rakhine after Oct. 9 attacks on police posts and subsequently on an army unit, is entering a deadly new phase. The next stage could see harsh zoning plans and relocation of villages, under a revival of the military's old "four cuts" strategy, developed in the 1970s to deny ethnic insurgents access to food, funds, information and recruitment.

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