Families Worried About Safety of Villagers Detained by Junta in Western Myanmar

By The Irrawaddy 17 June 2022

Relatives are concerned about the fate of their missing family members after residents of Abaung Thar Village in Chin State’s Paletwa Township were detained by regime forces, following fighting near the village between Myanmar’s military and the Arakan Army (AA).

Junta troops detained the Abaung Thar Village administrator and three villagers on May 28, after clashing with AA fighters two days earlier at the base of Mt. Suu Poke near Abaung Thar Village.

The son of U San Chit, one of the three detained villagers, told The Irrawaddy: “Soldiers came to our village and gathered villagers at a house. They said that there are people who have ties to the AA in this village. Then they took my father. At first we heard that they were taken to Battalion 289. We have heard nothing about them since then.”

Regime soldiers also detained two other Paletwa residents on June 4 and June 8, alleging that they have ties to the AA.

Family members of the detained villagers went to the Paletwa Township police station, only to learn that the regime has not opened cases against them at the police station. None of the detainees were remanded in custody or charged in line with legal procedures, and their relatives are increasingly concerned about their safety.

Abaung Thar Village is divided into two parts, one occupied by ethnic Chin people and the other by ethnic Rakhine people. Junta troops from the Kyauktaw-based 9th Military Operations Command are currently based in the Rakhine section of the village, forcing residents to flee their homes.

“The military has dug trenches in our village and we dare not stay. We have had no time to bring along our possessions. We heard that the soldiers are eating our farm animals,” one resident told The Irrawaddy.

Paletwa Township and Samee Town in neighboring Mindat Township have been isolated by the regime in response to rising military tensions between junta forces and the AA, and supply routes into the region have been blocked.

A Samee resident said: “People can’t get in or out of the town. Even the parents from nearby villages that send their children to school to Samee can’t enter the town.”

Internet services have been cut off in Paletwa by the military regime, which has also imposed strict restrictions on travel along the Paletwa-Kyauktaw waterway and Paletwa-Matupi road, both of which are crucial supply routes to Paletwa.

AA fighters have also seized supplies intended for junta troops in the area, said residents. On June 11, AA fighters seized food and 70 barrels of fuel bound for junta troops from a vessel heading to Paletwa from Kyauktaw, according to locals.

After 18 months of relative calm since the Myanmar military and AA agreed an informal ceasefire in 2020, Rakhine State is edging closer to a return to conflict as the junta realizes the growing influence of the AA in Paletwa and neighboring Rakhine State.

At a press conference earlier this week, AA spokesperson Khaing Thukha said that the two sides are holding talks through middlemen to try and defuse the tensions, but a military confrontation could occur if the negotiations fail.

Deputy junta chief Vice Senior General Soe Win visited battalions in Rakhine State earlier this week and called for them to be combat ready, junta media reported.

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