Police Arrest Dozens on Suspicion of Ties with AA in Northern Rakhine

By Moe Myint 4 February 2019

YANGON—Police arrested 26 people in northern Rakhine State’s Kyauktaw Township early Monday morning on suspicion of having connections with the Arakan Army (AA), state legislator U Maung Than Sein said.

He said authorities did not explain the reason for the arrests, but he inquired with Kyauktaw Township court and confirmed that Major Aung Naing Soe from Light Infantry Battalion No. 375 filed lawsuits against the villagers. Apart from one woman, the authorities transported all the detainees to Sittwe.

Social activist Ko Zaw Win from Kyauktaw Township, who witnessed the police’s initial questioning of villagers in the town on Sunday afternoon, said 24 displaced villagers from Shin Let Wa village, located in an active conflict zone in the upper Paletwa region in Chin State, were temporarily staying at a home in the town.

He said the house belongs to married couple Ko Thein Soe and Daw Hla Hla Yee, who hosted the displaced villagers and had already reported to the ward administrative official about their guests. In the evening, more than a dozen fully equipped police and township administrative officials returned to question the villagers.

Lawmaker U Maung Than Sein explained that many villagers were suffering due to the armed skirmishes between AA and government troops in rural areas of upper Paletwa, as artillery shells sometime landed near their villages. He said some of the suspects were aged between 40 and 50, and some of them frequently traveled from Shin Let Wa village to Kyauktaw to sell goods in the market.

“I have no idea why they sued these people under the Unlawful Association Act’s Article 17 (1),” said MP U Maung Than Sein.

The authorities did not arrest the displaced villagers in the daytime, likely to avoid attracting public attention. They discreetly detained all 26 at about 1 a.m. on Monday. He explained that several villages from the upper Kyauktaw region have been facing a lack of food, as the Army had blocked aid shipments by relief workers since January and left the village for safer locations.

Ko Zaw Win said more displaced villagers were believed to be on the way to urban areas from their villages on Monday. Despite the authorities’ arrest of more than two dozens residents, they declined to confirm the reasons. The Irrawaddy contacted police officer in charge U Soe Lwin and officer U Thant Zin for additional information but the calls went unanswered on Monday.

Another Kyauktaw resident, Ko Kyaw Hla Myint, confirmed that the host family lives in Ywar Ma ward and was also detained by police. According to him, the displaced people had been staying there about three days and had officially informed the ward administrator.

In January, about 30 village administrators in northern Rakhine submitted resignation letters to their local General Administration Department (GAD) offices for fear of being hit with Unlawful Association lawsuits. As of Monday, it was unclear whether the authorities had accepted the resignations.

Local relief groups estimate that more than 6,000 people have been displaced by the recent violence between the AA and government troops in northern Rakhine. Including IDPs from Chin State, the actual number could be higher than 7,000.