NAYPYITAW—The Myanmar military has denied the Arakan Army (AA)’s claim that a local leader of the National League for Democracy (NLD) in Rakhine State was killed by a military strike while being detained by the rebel group.
U Ye Thein, chairman of the NLD’s Buthidaung Township office, died on Dec. 25, 14 days after he was abducted by the AA from the party’s office on Dec. 11.
AA chief Major-General Tun Myat Naing said the group detained him because he planned to organize a rally in support of State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s defense of Myanmar at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) against a genocide case brought by The Gambia. The African country alleges that the Myanmar military’s operations in 2017, which pushed over 700,000 Rohingya from their homes in Rakhine State, constituted genocide.
The AA said in its statement that a few AA fighters were killed and injured when artillery shells fired by the Myanmar military (or Tatmadaw) hit one of the rebel group’s outposts at around 3 p.m. on Dec. 25.
The statement said the Tatmadaw’s Military Operations Command (15) based in Buthidaung launched an artillery attack on a hill controlled by the AA at 9 a.m. on Wednesday. U Ye Thein was killed in the attack, it said.
Military spokesman Brigadier-General Zaw Min Tun said no clash took place in Buthidaung on Wednesday.
“They said the Tatmadaw opened fire on their outposts. But the reality is there was no clash on Dec. 25,” Brig-Gen Zaw Min Tun told The Irrawaddy.
“We have learned that the NLD chairman received threats from the AA even before he was abducted. Buthidaung locals just dare not speak out. Locals know that the chairman was killed shortly after he was abducted,” he said.
The Irrawaddy was not able to contact AA spokesperson Khaing Thukha to obtain a comment.
U Pe Than, a central executive committee member of the Arakan National Party, said it is difficult to say which side was responsible for the death of the NLD chairman.
However, NLD information officer Monywa Aung Shin put the blame on the AA.
“He was an innocent civilian, and an official of the NLD. And he was arrested for organizing a rally in support of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s defense at the ICJ,” he said.
Together with its two allies the Ta’ang National Liberation Army and the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army, the AA issued a joint statement supporting international legal action against Myanmar for genocide and war crimes, though the statement did not refer to the Rohingya by name.
Ko Mya Aye, a prominent leader of the 88-Generation student movement, said the AA is responsible for the NLD chairman’s death, as he died in its custody.
He wrote on his Facebook page that people are free to support or oppose the case at the ICJ. “No armed group can abuse innocent civilians. No one should be privileged. I don’t want to see a person become infected with dictatorship while fighting the dictator,” reads his post.
Meanwhile, Upper House lawmaker U Whei Tin of the NLD has been detained by the AA since Nov. 3. The NLD and the Union Parliament have condemned the arrest, and called for the lawmaker’s immediate release. U Whei Tin’s family members have asked the AA to reveal his condition and whereabouts, but the group has not responded.
On Friday, the NLD released a statement expressing its condolences over the death of U Ye Thein, and condemning violence against civilians by any armed force.
“The killing of U Ye Thein proves that Myanmar’s political problems can’t be solved by arms. It also highlights that there are some organizations that are not happy with the rule of law, public security and national reconciliation,” said the statement.
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