AA Says Construction Company Employees it Abducted Were Military Spies

By Nan Lwin Hnin Pwint 4 April 2019

YANGON — The Arakan Army (AA) says eight construction company employees it abducted in southern Chin State are former members of the Myanmar military’s intelligence unit and were still working for the armed forces.

“Most of them worked for military intelligence for a long time. Some were in charge at the township level. Some are [former] corporals. And some transferred from military intelligence to the engineering battalion. They were also working for the military [at the time of arrest],” AA spokesman Khaing Thukha told The Irrawaddy.

On Saturday, the AA abducted 13 employees — 11 men and two women — of the Hsu Htoo San Construction Co., which is building a section of the Paletwa-Mizoram road in Paletwa Township. It later released the two women and three men.

Khaing Thukha accused the rest of collecting intelligence on the AA under cover to the Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transportation Project, which aims to link western Myanmar and eastern India via multiple routes including the road.

“They were doing military things under cover of the Kaladan Project. We don’t harm real construction workers,” he told The Irrawaddy.

The company could not be reached for comment.

Retired Maj. Win Maung Maung, the former head of military intelligence in Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine State, said he had never heard of the names of the alleged spies.

“I don’t think so. I don’t think the area needs undercover operations. The area has always been white,” he said.

White is the government’s color code for areas under its control, while brown refers to contested area and black denotes areas under the control of rebel groups.

“Civilians can travel in the area anytime. So, [spying] is quite unlikely,” the former major said.

Brig. Gen. Zaw Min Tun, of the military’s True News Information Team, denied that the eight detainees had ties to the military, known as the Tatmadaw in Burmese.

“They are employees of the construction company. They are not even family members or relatives of the Tatmadaw. They are not even from [the Construction Ministry’s Department of] Public Works. They work for a building contractor,” he told The Irrawaddy.

In a statement about the AA’s abductions, the Office of the Commander-in-Chief of Defense Services said that, when completed, the section of road the company is building will improve transportation between Myanmar and India and help develop the border area.

“I think they are trying to hamper the project,” Brig. Gen. Zaw Min Tun said.

Khaing Thukha denied the claim.

In a separate incident on March 16, the AA opened fire on a vessel carrying steel trusses to be used to build a bridge in Paletwa. The group burned down the vessel after taking the crew to shore.

According to the Khumi Affairs Coordination Council, building materials including trusses, paint and high-tension bolts worth $300,000 were destroyed in the attack.

The AA said it attacked the vessel because it was not informed of the shipment. Khaing Thukha said companies must send lists of workers and materials to be transported into its areas of operation in advance.

“If they say they don’t inform us because they don’t know where to inform us, we take that to mean they don’t care about their safety. If they want to be safe, they have to inform the AA,” said Khaing Thukha.

In a statement on Tuesday, the Khumi Affairs Coordination Council said the AA’s activities were hindering stability and development in Paletwa’s least developed areas and urged the group not to target development projects.

Hsu Htoo San Co. is based in Yangon’s Botatung Township and has won contracts to establish the Kanyinchaung economic zone, urbanize Sittwe, dredge the Kaladan River and carry out other projects in Sittwe.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.