Authorities Seize Cache of Weapons and Ammunition in Hpa-an Bust

By Lawi Weng 12 December 2016

RANGOON — Burmese authorities arrested three men and seized 19 assault rifles, hundreds of bullets, and 6 million kyats in cash on Friday after they stopped a car in Hpa-an Township, Karen State, local sources reported.

The seized weapons and ammunition belonged to the Arakan Liberation Party (ALP), according to ALP joint general secretary Khaing Aung Soe Than, who spoke to The Irrawaddy on Monday.

“They were our people. They have been detained at a police station,” he said.

The Ministry of Defense confirmed that security forces had arrested three people and seized 19 AK-47 assault rifles with ammunition, it said in a Facebook post.

Khaing Aung Soe Than said the ALP had been planning to send the seized weapons to Maungdaw and Buthidaung townships in Arakan State, where recently there has been high tension between Buddhist and Muslim ethnic groups. He said the ALP was trying to reinforce its military units in that region.

“We only have two sections of troops in that area. We are very weak out there,” said Khaing Aung Soe Than.

“And on the Kalar side, they have many guns. So the Muslim armed group could be a threat in the future. For that reason, we are planning to bring more weapons and ALP soldiers into that area,” he said. “Kalar” is a derogatory Burmese term used to describe Muslims or those of Indian descent.

The ALP is one of the eight ethnic armed groups which have signed the nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA). As part of this agreement, the ALP is not permitted to recruit new members and may not acquire new weapons.

“We tried to negotiate with the government for permission to move these weapons, but that did not work,” said Khaing Aung Soe Than. “So that’s why we tried to do it on our own.”

“For the government, we understand they’re worried that our ALP armed force will grow larger. But our main problem is not with the government. It is with the Muslims. You have to understand our local situation,” he added.

Last week, the authorities set up a checkpoint at the entrance to Hpa-an town, and that’s how they discovered the guns inside a car belonging to members of the ALP.

One of the three men arrested was Khaing Moe Chan, a colonel in the ALP armed forces. The defense ministry said that it would take action against the detainees in line with the law. The ministry also stated that the ALP acquired its seized weapons in the Law Khee Lar area.

Since the arrests were made on Friday, ALP leaders have approached the Burmese authorities to negotiate for the release of their members and weapons.