Switzerland has agreed to resettle the wife and two children of the Rakhine rebel leader Major General Tun Myat Naing, whose Arakan Army is actively fighting the Myanmar military, after they were detained in Thailand for 12 weeks.
The wife and two children were accepted by Switzerland last week but only flew from Bangkok to the European country on Tuesday afternoon, as they had to wait for an available flight, according to a source close to them who spoke on condition of anonymity. Many flights have been canceled due to China’s coronavirus outbreak.
Immigration officials in the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai detained Ma Hnin Zar Phyu, the wife of the chief of the Arakan Army, and their two children on Dec. 4 as she applied for an extension to her visa, which expired a day earlier. The couple’s elder daughter, who is 11, was studying at an international school in Chiang Mai. The younger child was only 11 months old when detained. The authorities initially planned to deport them back to Tachiliek, a border town in Myanmar, via Mae Sai town in Thailand’s Chiang Rai province.
However, within five days, they were transferred to Bangkok from Chiang Rai, following the intervention of foreign friends and the United Nations refugee agency, the UNHCR, which helped them resettle in a third country.
According to sources, Thailand decided not to hand them over to Myanmar police but transferred them to the UNHCR, which provided full support to them, including negotiating with officials in different countries over who would accept the AA leader’s wife and children.
The sources said Switzerland agreed to help Hnin Zar Phyu and the two children to resettle “on a humanitarian basis”, adding that it was “about the protection of the children”, as they no longer have proper documents.
The head of the UNHCR in Thailand, Giuseppe De Vincentiis, declined to comment on the case of Hnin Zar Phyu and the children on Tuesday.
He told The Irrawaddy, “We don’t comment on any individual situation, individual case or individual person” as per UNHCR policy, when asked about whether they had been accepted as refugees or under a different status.
Switzerland is currently playing a key role supporting Myanmar’s peace building process and human rights in the country. Also, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy to Myanmar, Christine Schraner Burgener, who is a Swiss diplomat, has had a good relationship with the Myanmar government since her appointment on April 26, 2018.
According to sources, the Myanmar government last year gave the Thai government a list of 10 people, including the family of Maj-Gen Tun Myat Naing, whom it sought to have arrested due to their affiliation with the AA.
On Oct. 19, police arrested U Kyaw Naing, the AA chief’s brother-in-law, at Yangon International Airport upon his return from Chiang Mai. U Kyaw Naing’s wife Ma Yamin Myat (aka Moe Hnin Phyu), who is Maj-Gen Tun Myat Naing’s sister, was also arrested as she came to meet her husband at the airport.
The police opened a case against the pair at Yangon’s Mayangone Township Court under Section 52 (a) (b) and (c) of the Counterterrorism Law.
The AA is currently embroiled in a serious conflict with the Myanmar military in northern Rakhine State. Tensions have been high in the area since November 2018 and fighting has displaced over 100,000 civilians and left hundreds dead, injured or detained.
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