YANGON — The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said it was ready to assist with the handover of prisoners of war, reacting to comments by the Arakan Army (AA) that it wanted the aid group to help with the return of three Myanmar military soldiers.
“The Arakan Army, they knows the service we provide, so they know that we can play forward as what we call a neutral intermediary. So they know about this and they already expressed their interest in releasing the detainees,” Fabrizio Carboni, the head of the ICRC delegation in Myanmar, told The Irrawaddy on Friday.
The AA says it captured the three soldiers on Sunday during fighting with the military’s Light Infantry Battalion 263 in Buthidaung Township, Rakhine State, near the Myanmar-Bangladesh border.
AA spokesman Khine Thukha told The Irrawaddy on Thursday that the ethnic armed group would like the ICRC’s help in handing the soldiers over, as it did nearly three years ago. In July 2015, the ICRC helped facilitate the release and handover of two soldiers held by the AA in Bangladesh.
Carboni said the ICRC’s role was strictly humanitarian and that it did not take part in negotiations between hostile parties. He said the ICRC could help with the soldiers’ release should a request come from both sides.
Neither the military nor the AA has contacted the ICRC for help.
“Now we don’t have any details. We have not been approached,” Carboni said. “I believe it’s more of an internal discussion to the Arakan Army than a dialogue with us.”
The AA said the three soldiers include a lance corporal and two privates and that nine soldiers were killed during Sunday’s fighting. The military has not released any information about the incident and could not be reached by The Irrawaddy for comment.
Khine Thukha said the captured soldiers were being detained in accordance with the Geneva Conventions, which Myanmar is a signatory to.
Article 3 (a) of the 1949 Geneva Conventions states that persons taking no active part in the hostilities, including members of armed forces who have laid down their arms and those placed “hors de combat” by sickness, wounds, detention or any other cause shall in all circumstances be treated humanely, without any adverse distinction founded on race, color, religion or faith, sex, birth or wealth, or any other similar criteria.
Carboni said ICRC procedures included interviewing prisoners before a handover and following up with them afterward.
“We tend to follow what happened to the people when they are back. This is part of our protection work,” he said.
“In the case of people who are released, we always do interviews with them. We ask them if they want to go back. We expect the people to know all the consequences of them going back, so we will never take somebody against their will. We have the interview before the handover, we share all the information we have, and we make sure that the person takes the decision knowing the consequences of his decision.”
There have been no cases of Myanmar’s military handing back the captured fighters of ethnic armed groups. Fighters who have been arrested have all been prosecuted, convicted and sentenced by the courts.
Nan Lwin Hnin Pwint contributed to this report.