Suspicions Surround Sittwe Courthouse Fire

By Moe Myint 10 January 2019

YANGON—Amid continued armed conflict in northern Rakhine State which has shaken up the stability of the region, a courthouse—located a stone’s throw away from the main Rakhine State police headquarters in the state capital Sittwe—was set alight late on Wednesday night.

Lance Cpl. Maung Maung Aye from Sittwe Fire Services Department confirmed to The Irrawaddy over the phone on Thursday morning that the mysterious fire razed 46 motorbikes and one trishaw which are believed to be pieces of evidence in ongoing cases in the court.

According to the officer, the fire caused more than 2.7 million kyats ($1,800) in damages and officers are still investigating the cause of the incident. He acknowledged that the police building and courthouse compound are just 90 meters (300 feet) apart.

Also coincidentally, the fire occurred on the night before the final decision was to be made on the appeal of prominent Arakanese politician U Aye Maung. The founder of the Arakan National Party (ANP) and an elected Union lawmaker, was arrested in January 2018 accused of high treason for speaking up in support of the armed struggle of the Arakan Army (AA) in a public talk along with a young Arakanese Ko Wai Han Aung.

Satellite imagery shows the close proximity of the state police building to the courthouse. / Google Maps

Sittwe resident Ko Min Bar Chay told The Irrawaddy that some locals are speculating that someone may have intentionally torched the courthouse in order to destabilize the situation in the state capital ahead of U Aye Maung’s court hearing. When it was decided to proceed with U Aye Maung’s trial on Thursday morning, his appeal to the State High Court was thrown out.

Ko Min Bar Chay said that as the incident had taken place in the courthouse compound, which is right next to the state police building, it shows there is a lack of rule of law and poor security in the state capital.

“The state police building is located merely yards away from the court, which is a very questionable point in this case,” said Ko Min Bar Chay.

Google satellite images show that the Sittwe courthouse is located near the new clock tower and right behind its compound is the Rakhine State Police Force building as well as the local General Administration Department offices, the department which was recently transferred from the control of the military’s Home Affairs Ministry to the civilian-controlled Office of the Union Government.

Ko Min Bar Chay expected that authorities could identify the suspect by checking footage from surveillance cameras. Last December, Rakhine State authorities installed almost 1 billion kyats ($657,000) worth of CCTV cameras in the capital with the purpose of the prevention of crime and traffic incidents.