Myanmar’s military regime has been on an arrest spree in Rakhine State since military tensions with the Arakan Army (AA) flared again in June. The latest targets are ward and village administrators and departmental personnel in Kyaukphyu district, home to a China-backed special economic zone and deep-sea port project.
Junta troops recently detained Kyaukphyu Fisheries Department chief U Kyaw Hsint, Land Records Department head U Tun Tun Win and surveyor U Tun Tun Naing, as well as ward administrator U Soe Hla Tun and a 100-household head, according to residents.
Kyaukphyu is a major garrison town, housing Infantry Battalion 34, Light Infantry Battalions 542 and 543, the Danyawaddy Naval Base, and No. 32 Police Battalion.
Junta troops there have been searching wards and villages and making arrests under the pretext of looking for members of the AA, and its United League of Arakan (ULA) political wing, said residents.
One member of a local civil society organization said: “The head of fisheries department was charged and tried under Section 17 (1) of the Unlawful Association Act. Others are still being detained in camps and barred visits from their families, so we don’t know what charges they face.”
Ward administrator U Soe Hla Tun and the 100-household administrator were detained while attending a meeting at the township General Administration Department on October 31. The township Land Records Department chief and surveyor were detained on October 25, and U Kyaw Hsint was detained on September 28, according to locals.
During two years of intense fighting between Myanmar’s military and the AA from late 2018 to 2020, more than 200 civilians were arrested and charged under the Counter-Terrorism Law on suspicion of having ties to the AA.
Back then, the armed group was labeled a terrorist organization. But one month after staging a coup in February last year, the military removed the AA from its list of terrorist groups. Apparently, though, the ethnic armed group fighting for self-determination and equality was still outlawed under the Unlawful Associations Act.
Arrests became less frequent after the two sides agreed an unofficial ceasefire ahead of the general election in November 2020. However, they have become common again since May.
In the latest reports, a village administrator and 100-household administrator from a Kyaukphyu ward were detained on Thursday. The Irrawaddy could not independently verify the reports.
One Kyaukphyu resident said: “Many of those who have links to the ULA/AA have already fled. And most of those detained have nothing to do with ULA/AA. Battalions in Kyaukphyu are on the rampage. They have seized many vehicles for ransom. The owners dare not reclaim them for fear that they might be arrested. So, junta troops are driving various models of vehicles around the town and making arrests.”
More than 30 residents including department heads have been detained in Kyaukphyu, according to relatives. Some were charged with incitement and violating the Unlawful Association Act, and many are being held incommunicado.
Since the 2020 ceasefire, the AA has expanded its parallel administration complete with a judiciary, revenue department and public security offices, consolidating control over much of Rakhine State.
Much of the administration was built while the regime was busy fighting resistance forces across the country after last year’s coup. Tensions flared when the regime attempted to stop the AA from expanding its parallel administration.
The two sides have been fighting since August along the Bangladesh border in Rakhine’s Maungdaw and Chin State’s Paletwa. The regime has imposed travel restrictions in northern Rakhine in a bid to cut off supplies to the AA, but locals are bearing the brunt of a blockade that has continued for more than two months in some areas.