Indian Man Dies, Lawmaker Still Held After AA Abduction in Myanmar’s Rakhine State

By Nyein Nyein 4 November 2019

An Indian man who was among 10 people abducted on Sunday by the Arakan Army (AA) died while in the ethnic armed group’s custody. The 10, including a member of the Union Parliament from Chin State and four other Indians working on the Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transportation Project, were abducted from two boats traveling from Paletwa to Kyauktaw on Sunday.

The AA released eight people — four Indians, two translators and two boat drivers – along with the deceased Indian man’s body, at Rakhine State’s Kyauktaw Police Station on Monday morning.

“They were released at 6 a.m. on Monday, but Chin State Upper House lawmaker U Whei Tin [of the National League for Democracy] is still in their custody. The body of Mr. Vinoo Gopal, 60, was released along with those freed,” said U Soe Htet, the Chin State Minister of Municipal Affairs, Electricity and Industry.

The eight survivors were at the Kyauktaw Police Station and were due to head to Sittwe, while the deceased man’s body was taken to Kyauktaw General Hospital.

Two of the Indian survivors are employees of the EPI company, while the three other Indians, including Gopal, were from the RPP company, according to the minister.

The abductees were traveling from Paletwa to Kyauktaw and were supposed to arrive at the Kyauktaw Township jetty at 10 a.m. on Sunday. When they failed to appear by 3 p.m., the vehicle driver waiting to pick up them up from Kyauktaw and transport them to Sittwe contacted the company in Paletwa to see whether they had left. It was determined that they were missing. The authorities were informed and the news spread.

Lawmaker U Whei Tin was on his way back to attend a session of the Union Parliament, which resumed on Monday in Naypyitaw.

U Soe Htet said the former detainees told him that the group was taken to an AA camp after being abducted at the Kyauktan jetty in Kyauktaw Township on Sunday afternoon. Kyauktaw Township, which is about two hours’ drive from Sittwe, has been an active conflict zone between the Arakan Army and the Myanmar Military since early this year.

U Myo Nyunt, a spokesman for the ruling National League for Democracy, called for the immediate release of U Whei Tin, saying he is an elected representative of the people and not related to the armed forces.

“We object to anyone who abducts people by force and by using arms,” U Myo Nyunt said, adding, “Members of Parliament should be treated with respect.”

Khaing Thukha, the AA spokesperson, told The Irrawaddy on Monday that, “We keep detaining U Whei Tin as we still need to investigate him for security reasons,” and repeated information contained in a statement released by the group earlier in the day that the AA “will soon release information on why they detained the Upper House parliamentarian from Chin State constituency No. 11.”

He said the AA did not intend to detain Indian civilians, adding that the men were detained in the course of regular AA checks on boats and speedboats for security reasons. “Our troops did not know in advance that the Indian citizens were on the boats,” he said.

In its statement released Monday the AA said, “United League of Arakan/Arakan Army is deeply sorry for Mr. Vinoo Gopal’s death.” It said, “Mr. Vinoo Gopal, the construction advisor unexpectedly died during … detention” and blamed the death on his health problems, as he was on medication for diabetes, obesity and heart problems.

It said the AA had already warned transportation companies, both road- and waterway-based, to inform the AA of their movements to avoid “unnecessary consequences” in their fighting zone with the Myanmar military.

The armed group also released a list of the persons it abducted. It includes five Indians: Gopal, Vijay Kumar Singh, Nangshanbok Suiam, Rakesh Sharma and Ajay Kothiyal; U Whei Tin; two local Hindus, supervisor Maung Hla Maung Chay (aka Jagat Moham), and translator La Mawn; and two Rakhine people, Maung Aung Thein Han and U Sein Shwe Maung.

It also said they will soon release the 18 firefighters they abducted earlier on Oct. 11 and whom are not related to the military.

Chin State minister U Soe Htet added that currently, 82 Paletwa residents are being detained by the AA. The ethnic armed group arrested one Chin person on Oct. 27 and another three on Oct. 31. He said that as the area is in an active conflict zone, “Government officials and the police cannot do anything. Only the military can enter the zone, so we cannot help them directly.”

The minister added that the Arakan Army’s actions in Paletwa Township, which borders Rakhine State, are causing the locals to suffer more.

He added, “As the AA military actions are based in Paletwa, which is a Chin township, it harms our people’s socioeconomic development, in terms of access to education, health and social security. Our people’s living standard is already low due to it being the poorest state, and the fighting has contributed to further economic hardship. The frequent attacks on these Indian projects are not good either. If the AA operates in their own state, we have nothing to say.”

Myanmar military spokesman Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun told The Irrawaddy that the Tatmadaw is trying to control the area, and “We are trying to rescue the parliamentarian too.”

AA abductions of civilians are not uncommon. A day earlier on Oct. 26, the AA abducted some 50 people, including police and soldiers, from the Shwe Nadi ferry near Rathedaung Township. Only 15 people so far have been rescued.

On Oct. 11, the AA abducted 31 people, including 19 Rakhine State firefighters, from the Shwe Pyi Thit Bus near Mrauk-U. The abductees were traveling from Mandalay to Sittwe. Twelve of them, ordinary civilians, were released on Oct. 27.

On March 30, the AA arrested 13 employees of the Hsu Htoo San Construction company, accusing them of affiliation with the Myanmar Military. The Myanmar company works with the Kaladan Project, which aims to link western Myanmar and eastern India via multiple routes. The AA released five of the 13, including two women, subsequently, but accused the rest of working undercover for the Myanmar military and detained them for five months, until they were released on Aug. 18.

Htet Naing Zaw and Htet Khaung Lin contributed to this report. 

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