PETALING JAYA: An armed group fighting for Rohingya rights in Myanmar has denied links with any terrorist groups in the world, saying that its attacks are only against the "oppressive" Burmese Army.
The Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (Arsa), as the group is known, said it did not commit acts of terrorism against civilians regardless of race and religion as it did not subscribe to "the notion of committing terrorism" for a cause it believed to be legitimate.
Arsa, which was initially known as the Faith Movement or Harakah al-Yaqeen, said it has come forward to defend, salvage and protect the Rohingya to the best of its capabilities.
"We, in doing so, declare loud and clear that our defensive attacks have only been aimed at the oppressive Burmese regime in accordance with international norms and principles until our demands are met," the group said in a statement on Wednesday that was disseminated through several Rohingya-centric news outlets.
It is believed to be the first time it has issued a statement. The four-page statement was signed by the group's "commander-in-chief."
Arsa made 20 demands of the Burmese Government, including reinstating the native ethnic status of the Rohingya and issuing them with citizenship identity cards.
The group has been blamed for coordinated attacks on three border posts in Rakhine state on Oct 9 last year, in which nine police officers were killed.
This prompted a violent backlash that caused thousands of Rohingya to be displaced including to Bangladesh.
Arsa was also said to be responsible for attacks last November that claimed the lives of two police officers.
Rohingya journalist-activist S.M. Anwar, who is based in Malaysia, said the group was currently hiding deep in the forests bordering Myanmar and Bangladesh.
"They are frustrated young guys who are rebelling against the Government," he told The Star Online.
The International Crisis Group (ICG) said in a report in December that the movement is led by a committee of Rohingya émigrés in Saudi Arabia and is commanded on the ground by Rohingya with international training and experience in modern guerilla warfare.
ICG also said the movement had considerable backing from Muslims in northern Rakhine state, including several hundred locally trained recruits.
Considered to be stateless and often subjected to arbitrary violence and forced labour in Myanmar, the Rohingya are considered by the United Nations as one of the most persecuted minorities in the world.
As of February this year, there were 56,458 Rohingya refugees registered with the UNHCR in Malaysia, although unofficial estimates put the number at three times that.