YANGON — The Arakan Army (AA) allegedly made off with about 6.7 million kyats in money and valuables extorted from villagers after torturing administrative officials and a Christian preacher in Chin State’s Paletwa Township last week, according to a local online publication.
On May 22, Online Chin World uploaded to its Facebook page handwritten complaint letters filed by residents of Tavupui village. It stated that AA soldiers had demanded money and jewelry, and seized mobile phones and rations from 15 Chin villagers. The letter did not mention the names of the leaders of the AA unit involved, or how many rebel soldiers participated.
Ko Steven, a community leader from Paletwa Township, told The Irrawaddy by phone on Tuesday that the village of fewer than 100 homes is located in a densely forested area of northern Paletwa. There are no sealed roads between the village and urban areas. It normally takes at least 10 hours to reach the village from the nearest town, as travelers need to take a boat and then walk for several hours.
“We were informed about the extortion by the AA but could not get detailed information from the villagers as it located in a very isolated area,” he said.
The head of the township police station and a local administrative officer told The Irrawaddy that they hadn’t received any complaints from the villagers as of Wednesday. Over the weekend, the AA and the Myanmar Army (or Tatmadaw)’s Infantry Unit No. 263 clashed along the Myanmar-Bangladesh border. In a statement, the AA claimed to have killed nine government soldiers and confiscated weapons and ammunition. One AA soldier died in the fighting, it said.
AA spokesman U Khine Thu Kha said a Tatmadaw captain who led the government unit was shot dead during the skirmish, but the ranks of the other dead soldiers had yet to be determined.
The AA spokesman denied that any AA personnel had committed extortion or torture against ethnic Chin in the region, adding that seeking protection money and extortion are prohibited by the group. He said that a group of people wanting to tarnish the reputation of the AA has occasionally carried out such raids. The AA has previously blamed such raids on the Arakan Liberation Army (ALA), a signatory to the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement based in the Paletwa mountains.
In August 2017, the AA raided ALA border outposts in an area of Paletwa where the borders of Myanmar, Bangladesh and India meet. Some high-ranking ALA officers defected to the AA and publicly announced the move in a video posted to AA’s official Facebook page in early 2018.
U Khine Thu Kha said many ethnic Rakhine soldiers served in the Tatmadaw, and sometimes pretended to be AA, looting goods from villagers.
“We have never forcefully taken things from civilians. We always pay local market prices whenever we buy chickens or rice,” he said.
A Tatmadaw spokesperson did not answer the phone when called by The Irrawaddy on Wednesday.