US, France Condemn Abduction of Three Ruling Party Candidates in Myanmar’s Rakhine State

By San Yamin Aung 19 October 2020

YANGON—The US and French embassies in Myanmar have condemned the abduction of three candidates in November’s general election in Rakhine State’s Taungup Township and demanded their immediate release.

Daw Ni Ni May Myint, Daw Chit Chit Chaw and U Min Aung of the ruling National League for Democracy, who are standing in the election for Lower House, Upper House and regional parliament seats respectively in Taungup Township, were abducted by unidentified armed men while campaigning at noon on Wednesday. Daw Ni Ni May Myint and U Min Aung are sitting lawmakers in the township. To date, the party and their family members haven’t been able to contact them.

According to party member Ko Phoe Htaung, who was one of five people who were abducted with the candidates but later escaped, the armed men in plainclothes surrounded a house in which the candidates were having lunch in Phaung Kha Village of Taungup Township. Many of those kidnapped, including some of those who later escaped, were hit and kicked, and cursed as “traitors” and “backstabbers”, Ko Phoe Htaung said.

“We were told to take off any shirts with NLD logos. They said they hated seeing the party’s shirts,” Ko Phoe Htaung told The Irrawaddy.

The assailants slapped U Min Aung and at least one of the women candidates was also hit, he said. The escaped party members told the media they assumed the Arakan Army (AA) was responsible for the abduction. No armed group has yet taken responsibility.

“We are concerned by the news that three candidates were abducted yesterday. All candidates should be able to campaign safely in a democratic system,” the US Embassy in Myanmar said in a statement released on Oct. 15.

The French Embassy condemned the abduction of the three candidates and called for their immediate, unconditional and safe release.

Taungup Township is an NLD stronghold in Rakhine State. While the party lost many seats in other townships in the state in the 2015 general election, it won in Taungup.

The NLD has called for the release of the abducted candidates as soon as possible while denouncing their kidnapping as an act of violence intended to hamper the peace process and the election.

The candidates’ abduction was the third involving NLD members since late last year.

In November last year, U Whei Tin, an NLD Upper House lawmaker for Paletwa in Chin State, was kidnapped. At the time, the AA—an ethnic Rakhine armed group currently warring with the central government for autonomy in the region—claimed responsibility for the lawmaker’s abduction, alleging he provided government troops with intelligence. He was released in January after a 79-day detention.

In December, a local NLD chief in Rakhine’s Buthidaung Township office died while in AA custody. He had been abducted after organizing a rally in support of State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s defense of Myanmar at the International Court of Justice against a genocide case brought by Gambia. The AA claimed U Ye Thein was killed in a military strike while being detained, but the Myanmar military denied the claim. And early this year, U Zeyar Min, an executive committee member and treasurer of the NLD’s Yanbye Township chapter, was abducted by unidentified armed people in February. He was released in June.

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