Myanmar Military Rejects AA Offer of Prisoner Exchange in Rakhine

By Htet Naing Zaw 13 November 2019

NAYPYITAW—The Myanmar military has rejected an offer by the Arakan Army (AA) to release Myanmar security personnel in exchange for the release of people detained by the military for alleged affiliation with the AA. The military rejected the offer and said it will instead try other means to save soldiers and policemen being held by the AA.

On Oct. 26, the AA abducted some 50 people, including police and soldiers, from the Shwe Nadi ferry near Rathedaung Township. Fifteen people—10 security personnel and five civilians—were rescued in a military operation, and the ethnic armed group later released 25 civilians but has kept the remaining security personnel in custody.

The group released a statement on Monday saying it wants to exchange the abductees for those detained by the Myanmar military, known as the Tatmadaw, for alleged affiliation with the AA.

“It’s not just the Tatmadaw—none of the armed forces around the world negotiate with terrorists. This is a long-standing norm. But we are still working to get the security personnel freed. We are continuing with our operations to gain control of the area and gather information,” Tatmadaw spokesperson Brigadier-General Zaw Min Tun told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday.

The list of detained security personnel whom the AA says it will release in exchange for prisoners held by the Myanmar military. (Photo: ULA/AA)

He confirmed that 17 police and Tatmadaw soldiers are still being held in AA custody, but said there is no guarantee they are still alive.

Brig-Gen Zaw Min Tun voiced concern about the health of the detainees, citing the case of firefighters abducted by the AA in October.

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

“The AA said the abductees were all in good health while in detention but then later said that one of them died before their release. They are not trustworthy,” he said.

When The Irrawaddy asked government spokesperson U Zaw Htay about the AA demand for a prisoner exchange, he said he would explain the government’s stance at a press briefing on Friday.

Along with the statement released on Monday, the AA also published a list of names and photos of individuals currently held by the armed group whom the group would like to exchange for prisoners held by the Tatmadaw.

“If the Myanmar Tatmadaw will release, unharmed, all civilians unfairly detained and charged using various excuses in Rakhine State as well as those arrested and charged for alleged ties to the AA, we are ready to release all those affiliated with the military named on the attached list unharmed,” read the statement.

The list of detained security personnel whom the AA says it will release in exchange for prisoners held by the Myanmar military. (Photo: ULA/AA)

Among those being prosecuted by the Tatmadaw are the sister and brother-in-law of AA chief Major-General Tun Myat Naing. The couple is facing charges of financing terrorism.

The AA said in its statement that “it wishes to exchange hostages if there are intermediaries, as the two sides are still building trust.”

The ethnic armed group also said that as long as the Tatmadaw continues its assaults and artillery strikes in Rakhine, AA hostages held in the operation areas are at risk of being killed by artillery shells.

U Whei Tin, a Chin ethnic lawmaker with the National League for Democracy (NLD) in Myanmar’s Union Parliament who is currently being held by the AA, is notably not on the armed group’s proposed list.

The NLD and 43 Chin civil society organizations have issued statements calling for the release of U Whei Tin.

Civilian deaths have increased in northern Rakhine State since clashes broke out between the Tatmadaw and the AA in November 2018. There are also reports of missing persons, for which the two sides blame one another, as well as deaths in detention.

The AA was formed by some 20 ethnic Rakhine youth in Kachin State’s Laiza in April 10 years ago. The armed group is now estimated to have some 10,000 members. In 2015, the armed group revealed its dream of returning to its homeland, Rakhine State, and started to build its base in Paletwa in Chin State on the Myanmar-India border before expanding its presence in northern Rakhine.

Additional reporting by Htun Htun. Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko

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