RANGOON — Five men found carrying drugs and unlicensed arms late last month may face charges of high treason, according to the Mandalay Division Police Force.
Brothers Aung Kyaw Moe and Aung Zaw Moe, along with Soe Thu Aung, Thet Oo Maung and Min Min, were apprehended along the Singu-Shwebo highway on June 26 with possession of several hunting rifles, walkie-talkies and illicit pills.
Further investigation led to the seizure of more than 40 guns at the brothers’ home the following day, police said.
Aung Zaw Moe’s wife was said to have voluntarily handed over an additional 19 firearms a few days later, including rifles, pistols and revolvers.
Police said the brothers claimed the rifles were used for hunting and belonged to their deceased father, a former police officer.
A Mandalay police officer, who wished to remain anonymous, told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday that the men are currently accused of unlawfully carrying arms and walkie-talkies, but they could face more severe charges.
“If they can’t give strong evidence for [why they possessed] those guns, we will charge them for high treason. We are still investigating their motives, and whether they had the guns for religious reasons, or for arms deals,” the officer said.
The quantity of firearms was cause for suspicion, he added, as hunters typically have only a few guns and they should be licensed.
The Mandalay Division Police Force, township police, Special Branch, the Criminal Investigation Department and a military security force are working collaboratively on an investigation into the case, which the officer said would be made public upon its closure.
The case has aroused significant interest from local residents and officials, prompting a wave of speculation on social media about the illicit arms. Many commentators, as well as some in the police force, showed concern that the arms could be linked to conflict in the Kokang Region, on the border with China.
Fighting between government troops and ethnic Kokang rebels in the remote region was reignited in February of this year, and has been among the fiercest of Burma’s ethnic conflicts in decades.
“Since there are military activities by Kokang and others at the border, we are concerned that [rebels] will enter Mandalay through Mogok. The military and police are jointly conducting checks—both regular checks and in response to tip-offs—in places like Singu and Tanse,” The Mandalay officer said.