The Arakan Army has detained two employees from the Myanmar military-backed MyTel telecom operator after abducting them as they traveled for work in northern Rakhine state, where rebel and national forces have been engaged in intensified fighting over the past year, a company spokesman said Friday.
The office of military commander-in-chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing announced Friday that Zaw Tun Aung, MyTel’s director in Rakhine state, and company driver Saw Thein Maung went missing on Dec. 23 near Kyauktaw town and were later determined to have been abducted by the AA near Taungpauk village, based on information from local residents.
The two men left Rakhine’s capital Sittwe on Dec. 17 to travel to Ann, Thandwe, and Minbya townships to inspect communications towers.
“So far, we’ve listed their status as missing,” said Zaw Min Oo, MyTel’s chief external relations officer. “We don’t know where they are or why.”
“We filed missing person reports at the police station on the day they were discovered to be missing,” he added.
Zaw Tun Aung, a Rakhine state native, and Saw Thain Maung reportedly spent the night in Minbya on Dec. 22 and left for Kyauktaw the following day. Nothing has been heard from them since then.
RFA was unable to reach AA spokesman Khine Thukha for comment.
Colonel Win Zaw Oo, spokesman for the Myanmar’s military’s Western Command which is responsible for Rakhine state, said the abductions are part of the AA moves to destabilize the government in its quest for greater autonomy in the region.
“They must be trying to disrupt the government’s control in the region,” he said. “They have been abducting local administrators, civilians, and firefighters.”
“They are sending the message that the government’s bodies are losing control in the state while they are gaining more control,” he said. “I think they are trying to prove that this region belongs to them.”
Win Zaw Oo said the military is conducting a clearance operation in the area where the two MyTel employees were abducted.
Prisoners of war
The AA said in a November statement that it was detaining 17 prisoners of war, including six Myanmar soldiers, nine policemen, a prison department employee, and a military engineer.
This week, the AA said it was also holding ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) party member Whay Tin, a Chin state lawmaker, and three immigration officials who traveled in northern Rakhine’s Buthidaung township.
The rebel force said Wednesday that a mortar shell explosion by Myanmar soldiers killed Ye Thein, chairman of the NLD in Buthidaung.
Arakan soldiers had detained the official for nearly two weeks ago for organizing a public rally in support of Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s defense of the country on genocide charges before the International Criminal Court in The Hague, the Netherlands.
Myanmar forces denied engaging in any fighting in Buthidaung on Tuesday or Wednesday.
The government military has detained ethnic Rakhines amid the armed conflict, including the sister and brother-in-law of AA commander-in-chief Tun Myat Naing for allegedly funding the rebel army’s activities.
Tun Myat Naing’s wife and two children were detained by Thai authorities in the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai in early December at the request of the Myanmar government, which said they and other relatives of the commander were involved in destructive activities against the country.
So far, the Myanmar military has rejected offers by the AA for a prisoner exchange.
Hostilities between the Myanmar military and the AA have resulted in dozens of civilian deaths and have displaced more than 90,000 local residents during the past year.
MyTel is one of four telecom operators in Myanmar and is jointly owned by Star High Public Company Ltd., a subsidiary of Myanmar Economic Corporation under the military-controlled Ministry of Defense; Myanmar National Telecom Holdings, a Myanmar consortium comprising 11 companies; and Viettel, a Vietnamese telecom company wholly owned and operated by Vietnam’s defense ministry.
In June, The Myanmar government ordered MyTel and other telecom operators to temporarily suspend internet services to conflict areas in northern Rakhine state and in one township in neighboring Chin state, with one official saying that the AA could use the network to spy on the Myanmar military’s operations and to transfer data involving military intelligence.
After much criticism of the move by rights groups, humanitarian aid providers, and domestic lawmakers, internet service was later restored in some of the locations, but remains suspended in Kyauktaw, Ponnagyun, Mrauk-U, and Minbya townships.
Reported by Kyaw Thu for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.