YANGON — An ethnic Arakan-Bamar man with apparent ultranationalist sympathies was found with a grenade and detained with his wife in Rakhine State on Monday after refusing demands from local authorities to leave a village cleared of Rohingya and razed to the ground in the wake of the violence that hit the area in August.
A border police major contacted by The Irrawaddy on Wednesday said local authorities found a grenade and several swords in the home of Tun Myint Oo and his wife, Ohmar Kyaw, in Maungdaw Township’s Thin Baw Gwe village. He said the couple was being held at Buthidaung prison and was charged by the local court under Article 505 (b) of the Penal Code for “threatening public tranquility,” which carries a maximum two-year prison term.
Authorities have not revealed any details about the couple. But Union Election Commission (UEC) records, Facebook posts on Tun Myint Oo’s page and those of others, and corroboration from local residents offer some insight.
According to Tun Myint Oo’s campaign leaflet for the 2015 general election, he was born in Pakokku Township, Magwe Region, in 1973 and holds a National Registration Card as a Yangon resident. The records say he passed the 11th grade matriculation exam in 1994 and graduated from Malaysia’s Spectrum Technological College as an electronic engineering student in 2011.
According to his Facebook page, Tun Myint Oo returned from Malaysia in 2014. Photos posted to the account show him attending anti-Rohingya rallies led by Ma Ba Tha affiliates including the Myanmar National Network (MNN) and events in support of Article 59 (f) of the Constitution, which bars the country’s de facto leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, from the presidency.
The account says Tun Myint Oo also serves as a central executive committee member of the anti-Muslim Peace and Diversity Party (PDP).
In 2016 the party’s then chairman, Nay Myo Wai, a supporter of the nationalist Ma Ba Tha group, was detained for about two months while on trial for defaming then President U Htin Kyaw, State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and army chief Min Aung Hlaing on Facebook, though he was eventually acquitted and released. One of the offending posts showed his subjects in sexually suggestive positions.
UEC records say Tun Myint Oo contested the 2015 elections on the PDP ticket to represent Irrawaddy Region’s Kyonpyaw Township in the Upper House but lost to the National League for Democracy candidate.
The Irrawaddy called numbers for Tun Myint Oo and the MNN several times on Tuesday but without success.
Tun Myint Oo ‘s Facebook page says he occasionally herded cattle donated by a branch of Ma Ba Tha for displaced and resettled families from Kyonpyaw to Maungdaw, a distance of about 100 miles.
Photos on his page show him next to U Wirathu on the ultranationalist monk’s multiple visits to Rakhine in 2015. They also show him in the company of other influential monks, government officials and military officers in the region.
His page says he has travelled between Yangon and Maungdaw frequently since 2015 and sometimes describes him as the leader of the PDP’s Maungdaw chapter.
His page also says that we witnessed the first set of attacks by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) on government security outposts in Rakhine in October 2016, during which the militant Muslim group killed nine police officers and stole more than 60 firearms.
Six months before ARSA’s second round of attacks, in August 2017, a post on Tun Myint Oo’s Facebook page says he built a pagoda in Maungdaw’s Kauktalone village. The page says it was officially approved by the township Sangha authority. By law, pagodas in the state also need approval from the General Administration Department, which is under the military’s control.
ARSA’s attacks that month targeted non-Muslim communities and displaced more than 30,000 people, many of whom fled to neighboring townships in northern Rakhine. The militants reportedly killed more than 50 civilians, mostly minority Hindus.
The Myanmar Army responded immediately with a crackdown in the region that has driven some 700,000 mostly Rohingya to neighboring Bangladesh, many with reports of arson, rape and extrajudicial killings by soldiers. The UN and US have called it ethnic cleansing, and rights groups want Senior-General Min Aung Hlaing brought before the International Criminal Court. The army claims its actions were part of a legitimate counter-insurgency operation.
On Facebook, Tun Myint Oo has called for donations from nationalist groups to help resettle the non-Muslims displaced by the violence. His page says he has helped settled nearly 100 Arakan households in Thin Baw Gwe village since December. Some of those settlers have confirmed to The Irrawaddy that Tun Myint Oo helped bring them to the village.
Local authorities have been telling the new arrivals to leave the village since early 2018 and most have since complied, relocating to other communities nearby.
UN officials and international aid groups aware of the resettlements in emptied Rohingya villages have complained to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and warned that they could spark further communal violence if the Rohingya families forced out of them are officially repatriated.