Arakan Army Admits to Abducting Myanmar Ruling Party Candidates, Demands Prisoner Release

nld-abductees.jpg A photo of three candidates from Myanmar’s ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) accompanying a statement from the Arakan Army confirming the Oct. 14 abduction of the trio, Oct. 19, 2020.
Arakan Army release.

Five days after armed men in a speedboat snatched three candidates from Myanmar’s ruling party as they campaigned in rural Rakhine, the rebel Arakan Army on Monday claimed responsibility for the abductions and demanded the release of detained civilians and student anti-war protesters.

The abductions by speedboat took place on Oct. 14, three weeks before national elections. The National League for Democracy (NLD) candidates were seized on Phaung Khar Island in Taungup township, far south of the theater of the war between the Myanmar military and the AA that erupted in late 2018, and hadn't been heard from.

In a statement issued Monday, the AA said they will release the candidates if the NLD government frees politicians, student protesters and innocent civilians arrested and jailed by Myanmar authorities, with spokesman Khine Thukha telling RFA they seized the politicians to highlight ruling party collaboration with the feared military.

“Number one: Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD government is ordering the Myanmar military to destroy the ULA/AA and giving opportunities to the military to commit war crimes; number two: The NLD government is protecting the Myanmar military from international legal prosecution; and number three: The government is exploiting political benefits from COVID-19 outbreak in Rakhine State,” he told RFA’s Myanmar Service.

“Moreover, the NLD is using traitorous Rakhine people to turn against each other, in other words, insulting Rakhine national dignity,” said Khine Thukha.

Last week local NLD supporter Thant Zin Pyo, who was abducted with the candidates but later escaped, described the armed captors as speakers in a Kyaukphyu regional dialect who called the captives “traitors” and “backstabbers.”

“For these reasons, the AA has detained three candidates and is questioning them. We will detain them as long as necessary,” Khine Thukha said, and restated a POW exchange proposal it had made earlier.

RFA tried to reach government and military spokesman for comment but received no responses as of Monday evening.

But ruling NLD party central executive committee spokesman Dr. Myo Nyunt said it would be “very difficult to agree their demand since AA violently abducted hostages by arms.”

“This violent act will not by any means result in a political solution,” he told RFA, adding that his party would prefer “discussing (the grievances) in legal ways.”

Myo Nyunt added that “under current political conditions, the government cannot order the military. We would like to emphasize that the military is independently handling all military affairs.”

A local NLD official identified the abducted politicians are Ni Ni May Myint, 31, who is seeking reelection to the lower house of parliament; Chit Chit Saw, 32, running for a seat in the upper house, and Min Aung, 48, a state parliamentarian seeking reelection,

Ni Ni May Myint’s husband called on the government and AA to negotiate for the release of his wife and the two others.

“I am a bit relieved that she is still alive. But we don’t know their health, their conditions. At this point all the families expect and wish to free them after solving the problems between the government authorities and the AA. Now it has been five days,” he told RFA.

The AA has been battling Myanmar forces since late 2018 as the rebels fight for greater autonomy for ethnic Rakhine people in what they consider to be its historic homeland on the Bay of Bengal coast. The war has killed nearly 300 civilians and injured more than 640 while displacing more than 220,000 civilians.

Both the AA and Myanmar military have detained soldiers from each other’s forces during the armed conflict as well as civilians suspected of supporting or aiding the enemy.

In March, the Myanmar government declared the AA, an 11-year-old force thought to have 7000-9000 fighters, an illegal association and terrorist organization and has refused to negotiate with it bilaterally or in official peace talks with multiple ethnic armies.

Political and ethnic affairs analyst Maung Maung Soe said if the government military still refuses to recognize the AA as an ethnic organization (EAO) at peace negotiations, the situation will continue to deteriorate.

“I see it as a hostile reaction against each other. At the moment, the government is unable to proceed the peace process as elections are underway,” he told RFA.

“Nowadays the back and forth conflict has become too hostile. Only a ceasefire between the two sides can relieve this tension,” added Maung Maung Soe.

“In the case of a ceasefire, the government military has to recognize the AA as a stakeholder EAO based in Rakhine State. At the moment, that situation is still far from reality.”

Pe Than, a lower house MP from the Arakan National Party, a major ethnic Rakhine party in the state, told RFA “these problems would be automatically solved if the government army recognized the AA and negotiates with them as an ethnic arm group.”

“Otherwise political problems such as these become military problems,” he said.

More than 226,000 people have been displaced since hostilities between the Myanmar military and AA escalated in late 2018, according to the Rakhine Ethnics Congress, a local NGO.

The NLD is seeking reelection after taking power from the pro-military USDP in the last national vote held in 2015. The stiffest competition will again be between the NLD, which is fielding 1,143 candidates, and the USDP, which has put forward 1,129 candidates.

Reported by Soe San Aung for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Kyaw Min Htun. Written in English by Paul Eckert.

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