The Arakan Army on Monday claimed responsibility for last week’s abduction of three National League for Democracy (NLD) election candidates as they campaigned in Taungup Township, southern Rakhine State. The group said it would not release the candidates until the government freed all ethnic Rakhine politicians and civilians arrested for affiliation with the AA and student protesters detained for demanding peace.
Daw Ni Ni May Myint, Daw Chit Chit Chaw and U Min Aung of the ruling NLD, who are standing in the November general election for Lower House, Upper House and Rakhine State parliament seats respectively in Taungup, were abducted by AA troops in plainclothes while campaigning in Hpaung Kha Village at noon on Wednesday. Daw Ni Ni May Myint and U Min Aung are sitting lawmakers in the township.
According to witnesses, the AA members physically abused the candidates, including slapping and kicking them, cursed them as “traitors” and “backstabbers” and told them to remove clothing bearing NLD logos. Their phones, party flag and party funds were also taken.
In a statement issued on Monday afternoon, the AA described the NLD candidates as “crooked” and as “Burmese puppets and traitors”. It said the three would be detained for further interrogation and their release would come at the AA’s discretion.
The AA detained NLD Chin State lawmaker U Whei Tin from Paletwa constituency in November 2019 and the party’s Buthidaung Township (in Rakhine State) chapter chairman U Ye Thein in December of that year, accusing them of “jeopardizing the Arakanese liberation movement.” In its Monday statement it cited these past examples and said they were “released under suitable conditions.”
Along with its statement Monday, the AA released a picture of the three NLD candidates with the seized phones, masks, campaign leaflets and party flag.
AA spokesman Khaing Thu Kha reiterated the group’s accusation that “they are not only disturbing the revolution, but collaborating with” the Myanmar army to “commit torture and killings against civilians.”
NLD spokesman Dr. Myo Nyunt said it is inappropriate for the AA to arrest and punish anyone who has a different opinion from its own. Furthermore, the NLD candidates were acting in accordance with the law as they canvassed the township for votes, he said.
He told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday that the AA’s arrest of the NLD candidates was “a threat against the NLD’s election campaign.”
“As a political party we cannot communicate directly with the AA, which was declared a terrorist group [in March],” U Myo Nyunt said. “Therefore we cannot provide help for our members who are detained, but we believe the government will do as much as they can to secure their release.”
Northern Rakhine State has been rocked by fierce clashes between the AA and the military since an escalation of the conflict began in November 2018. Since then, more than 200,000 civilians have been displaced, and hundreds killed or injured. Since last year, the conflict has slowly spread to the southern part of the state, including Taungup and Gwa.
Despite the candidates’ abduction, election campaigning continues in downtown Taungup.
The Union Election Commission has canceled voting in the Nov. 8 general election in most of Taungup Township’s villages. Voting has been canceled in nine whole townships in northern Rakhine. Only two thirds of the more than 60,000 voters who live in urban areas in Taungup Township will be able to exercise their right to vote, according to Dr. Tin Mar Aung, a candidate for the Arakan League for Democracy in Taungup Constituency 2.
She said the candidates could not do much apart from engage in voter education activities due to COVID-19 prevention measures.
Regarding the candidates’ security in the area, she told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday, “There is no threat downtown, as I don’t believe the AA is [active] in town; they are in remote villages of Taungup constituency.”
The AA also accused the NLD government and State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi of encouraging the military to arrest Rakhine civilians, of neglecting Rakhine, and of collaborating with and protecting the military, which has committed war crimes against the people of the state.
It described the NLD as a “democratic authoritarian regime”, adding that “in coordination with the Burmese fascist army, the NLD regime is implementing the consolidation of Burma Chauvinism to disunite ethnic nationalities while oppressing and discriminating against non-Burman peoples.”
One notable detail of the statement was that while the AA avoided using an honorific in references to the State Counselor and made threats against her administration for trying to discredit the AA in the international community, it was careful to use an honorific in references to former President U Thein Sein, a gesture that raised eyebrows among observers of the AA’s position.
Expressing hate speech against Burmans and describing as “traitors” ethnic Rakhine who represent the NLD, the AA said, “The incumbent NLD regime is also working to maintain Burman chauvinism as a priority, just as previous regimes did. At the same time, serving as good slaves to their lords, some NLD members in Arakan have attempted to destroy the Arakanese revolution.”
The AA also accused the NLD candidates of being “informants for the military” and said that NLD politicians keep quiet about the suffering of Rakhine civilians brought about as a result of armed conflict between the AA and the military.
Military spokesman Major General Zaw Min Tun rejected the AA’s claim, saying the military has its own intelligence and information-gathering systems.
“We don’t use [outsiders] as informants, because it is risky. We have our own trained informants to get information about our enemy,” he said.
Nan Lwin Hnin Pwint contributed to this report.
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