Police in Myanmar’s Rakhine Turn Away Villagers Seeking Help in Case of Abducted Relatives

2020-12-11
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Police in Myanmar’s Rakhine Turn Away Villagers Seeking Help in Case of Abducted Relatives Relatives of Kyauktaw township villagers abducted by government soldiers in Myanmar's Rakhine state appear at a press conference in Sittwe, June 15, 2020.
RFA

Family members of villagers kidnapped by government soldiers in Myanmar’s Rakhine state were turned away by police this week after trying to file a missing persons report, their second attempt to call for accountability following the villagers’ disappearance in March.

The 18 captives, residents of Rakhine’s strife-torn Kyauktaw township, were arrested in mid-March, when Myanmar troops entered the region amid fighting with the ethnic Arakan Army (AA) and burned down dozens of homes in the 500-home ethnic Rakhine tract.

Eight of the group went missing from Tin Ma village on March 13, with the other 10 disappearing from Tin Ma Gyi village three days later.

Military spokesmen have repeatedly denied holding the group, though family members said in June that around 10 of the kidnapped civilians had recently been seen performing hard labor in a military battalion.

The nearly two-year-long war between government forces and the AA, which is seeking greater autonomy in Rakhine, has killed more than 300 civilians and displaced about 226,000 others, many of whom are now living in temporary camps in the state.

Speaking at a press conference on Nov. 27, military spokesman Major General Zaw Min Tun said that complaints and evidence relevant to the case of the missing villagers would have to be filed with Kyauktaw township police.

But police on Dec. 8 refused to accept a petition from family members asking that they take action, saying that reports should be filed with the military instead.

Police had also turned away an earlier request by villagers on March 23 that they file a report, calling the disappearances an army matter.

Township police insisted again on Dec. 8 that Myanmar’s military would have to handle the case, saying that police authorities “had nothing to do with it,” villager Zaw Win, one of those presenting the second petition, told RFA on Wednesday.

“We argued with the police about this, saying that they had to accept our complaint and open a case. But they asked us just to leave our report, saying they would forward it on to the army,” he said.

Threatened with arrest

Maung Kyaw Win, the father of one of the missing villagers, said that police then threatened them with arrest if they persisted with their complaint.

“When we arrived at the police station, they said we would have to wait to speak with the police commander. And when the commander arrived, four of us met with him in his office. He said that he could arrest us, too,” he said.

“I told him that my son was among the villagers who were detained, and said that we wanted to file a formal report.”

When the police commander called out to someone, the group feared they might be placed under arrest and quickly left the station, he said.

Repeated calls by RFA seeking comment from Kyauktaw township police officials, Major General Zaw Min Tun, and Rakhine state government spokesman Win Myint were not answered through Friday.

But Myo Myat Hein, a lawyer from the Thazin Legal Aid group in Rakhine’s capital Sittwe, said that the police were obliged by law to file a report.

“Refusing to accept a report on the 18 missing villagers has violated these citizens’ rights under the law,” he said.

Rights activist Nickey Diamond from the Southeast Asia-based Fortify Rights called the abduction of the missing Rakhine villagers “a clear violation of human rights.”

“We want the authorities to stop these rights violations and bring justice [to the victims],” he said, adding, “As a human rights group, we condemn the lawless detention of civilians. The perpetrators must be prosecuted and properly punished.”

“The authorities should stop protecting those who violate human rights,” he said.

Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Richard Finney.

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