Long Silence From Abducted NLD Candidates in Myanmar's Rakhine State Prompts Fears

By Zaw Zaw Htwe 5 November 2020

YANGON—The National League for Democracy (NLD) branch in Rakhine State’s Taungut Township said it feared for the lives of three abducted NLD candidates, as it has not received any information about them since their detention by the Arakan Army (AA) more than three weeks ago.

The general election in which the trio were candidates is now just three days away.

The three candidates, Daw Chit Chit Chaw, Daw Ni Ni May Myint and U Min Aung—who are standing in the November general election for Lower House, Upper House and Rakhine State parliament seats respectively in Taungup—were arrested by the AA in Hpaung Kha Village on Oct. 14 while campaigning.

The AA has not freed them despite being urged to do so by the NLD and the US and French embassies in Myanmar, which have called for their immediate release.

On Oct. 19, the AA said in a statement that it would not release the candidates until the government freed all ethnic politicians and civilians arrested for affiliation with the AA and student protesters detained for demanding peace.

Describing the NLD candidates as “crooked” and as “Burmese puppets and traitors” in the statement, the AA said the three would be detained for further interrogation and their release would come at the AA’s discretion.

It has been 23 days since the three candidates were abducted.

U Tin Thein Aung, the chair of the NLD’s Taungup Township branch, told The Irrawaddy on Thursday that neither the party nor the families of the three candidates have been able to contact them.

He said the party is not worried about the consequences of the abduction on the election results; rather, it fears for the safety of the three, as it has received no information about them.

“We are very worried about their health, their living conditions and their lives,” U Tin Thein Aung said.

NLD Central Executive Committee member Dr. Myo Nyunt said on Thursday that issues relating to ethnic people are the NLD’s top priority, adding that its main goal is to end the civil war.

Therefore, it wants the AA to stop arresting people and to release the three candidates immediately.

Police captain Than Naing, head of the Tuaungup Township Police Force, told The Irrawaddy that the Myanmar military is conducting operations in those areas where the abducted NLD candidates are believed to have been detained by the AA.

“We [the police] are not able to attack them [the AA]. We are just collecting information [about the three NLD detainees]. We are investigating them by opening lawsuits according to the law. We have no plan to go to the AA’s camp and rescue the detainees.”

The US Embassy in Myanmar said in a statement in October that it was concerned about the three candidates and that all candidates should be able to campaign safely in a democratic system.

Meanwhile the French Embassy condemned the abduction of the three candidates and called for their immediate, unconditional and safe release.

Taungup Township is an NLD stronghold in Rakhine State. While the party lost many seats in other townships in the state in the 2015 general election, it won in Taungup.

The upcoming 2020 general election will be held in only four quarters of Taungup Township with more than 21,000 eligible voters.

In the remaining 10 quarters, the election has been canceled in 52 village-tracts comprising more than 200 villages due to security concerns.

The candidates’ abductions were the third such incident involving NLD members since late last year.

In November last year, U Whei Tin, an NLD Upper House lawmaker for Paletwa in Chin State, was kidnapped. At that time, the AA—an ethnic Rakhine armed group currently warring with the central government for autonomy in the region—claimed responsibility for the lawmaker’s abduction, alleging he provided government troops with intelligence. The lawmaker was released in January after a 79-day detention.

In December, a local NLD chief in Rakhine’s Buthidaung Township office died while in AA custody.

At the time, the AA claimed he was killed in a military strike while being detained, but the Myanmar military denied the claim.

And early this year, an executive committee member of the NLD’s Yanbye Township branch who also serves as its treasurer was abducted by unidentified armed people in February. He was released in June.

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