Myanmar Junta Risks War in Rakhine State with Civilian Arrests

By The Irrawaddy 20 May 2022

With military tensions running high in Rakhine State, Myanmar’s regime is again arresting civilians over their alleged ties to the Arakan Army (AA), according to residents.

During two years of intense fighting between Myanmar’s military and the AA between late 2018 and 2020, more than 200 civilians were arrested and charged under the Counter-Terrorism Law on suspicion of having ties to the AA. The armed group was then labeled a terrorist organization.

Arrests became less common after the two sides agreed an unofficial ceasefire ahead of the general election in November 2020.

However, arrests are on the rise again, especially after AA chief Major General Twan Mrat Naing issued a warning to the chief of the regime’s western command, which oversees Rakhine State, according to residents.

The regime troops have been searching villages for AA affiliates and telling villagers to stay clear of the AA, said witnesses. The regime has also reportedly tightened security checks on roads.

“The regime has tightened checks at checkpoints after Gen Twan Mrat Naing warned the commander. They have been increasingly searching villages. Three young people from a displacement camp in Rathedaung were detained. They are making arrests like before,” U Myat Tun, director of the Arakan Human Rights Defenders and Promoters Association, told The Irrawaddy.

Three males, aged around 17, from a displacement camp at Pyi Lone Chanthar pagoda in Rathedaung Township were detained at a military checkpoint while riding a motorbike on the Rathedaung-Ponnagyun road on Monday. Their whereabouts are still unknown.

The regime has increased the number of checkpoints on the Yangon-Sittwe road and is conducting tight security checks. On Monday, junta soldiers arrived in Tanlwe Ywama, Taungup in southern Rakhine State and searched for AA affiliates.

“They came in two vehicles and asked if people knew any AA members and searched houses. Many people fled when they saw them coming. Only elderly people were left,” said a resident.

Junta soldiers remain at the town’s police station and are searching houses.

Junta troops and the AA clashed near the village of Than Htaung in Paletwa Township, Chin State, which borders Rakhine State, on May 15.

Since the 2020 ceasefire, the United League of Arakan, the political wing of the AA, has expanded its parallel administration, including a judiciary, revenue department and public security offices.

Much of the administration was built while the regime is busy fighting the resistance forces across the country after last year’s coup.

In its statement on Sunday, the AA accused the regime of increasing its presence in Rakhine and disrupting its administrative and judicial work and attempting to arrest its staff. Fighting could erupt at any time, said the AA.

On Saturday, Maj-Gen Twan Mrat Naing held two hours of talks with the civilian National Unity Government.

Arakanese politician U Pe Than said fighting is likely as both sides are deployed near each other.

“The peace that was based on mutual understanding will fail if one side undermines trust. [The AA] has issued warnings. But the regime has stepped up its arrests of AA supporters. The AA will not just stand by and do nothing for long. It will take action to protect people and confrontation will be inevitable,” U Pe Than told The Irrawaddy.

Nearly 20 civilians arrested over alleged AA suspicion died in custody from late 2018 to November 2020.

More than 30 civilians still face charges in Rakhine courts under the Counter-Terrorism Law, according to civil society organizations.

More than 200,000 people were displaced by the fighting and some 60,000 remain in camps.

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