The rebel Arakan Army has released a local ruling party lawmaker it abducted nearly three months ago, saying it freed him as a goodwill gesture amid ongoing fighting between the ethnic army and government forces in northern Rakhine state, a spokesman for the group said Tuesday.
Chin state lawmaker Whay Tin, a member of Myanmar’s ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) party, was detained on Nov. 3 because the AA believed he was a Myanmar military informant who had helped soldiers arrest ethnic Rakhines in Chin’s Paletwa township.
AA spokesman Khine Thukha explained why the ethnic armed organization freed Whay Tin.
“We have released Whay Tin because we want to build mutual trust and understanding between the Rakhine and Khami people, which is also one of Rakhine’s ethnic groups,” he said.
“We want to strengthen brotherly relationships and friendships between the two ethnic groups,” he added.
The AA, a mostly ethnic Rakhine Buddhist force, has engaged in intensified hostilities with the Myanmar military in northern Rakhine for over a year, as the rebel soldiers fight for greater autonomy in the state. The clashes also have spilled over into Paletwa township in neighboring Chin state.
Both the AA and Myanmar military routinely detain and interrogate civilians and local government employees whom they believe may be assisting the enemy.
Former Chin state minister Salai Issac Khin confirmed that Whay Tin had returned to his family on Tuesday morning and is in good condition.
NLD spokesman Monywa Aung Shin welcomed Whay Tin’s release and encouraged the AA to free other detainees.
“If this is true, it is very good news for all of us,” he told RFA’s Myanmar Service. “I am very glad and welcome this news. I’d like to appeal [to the AA] to release other detainees too.”
Salai Taya, spokesman for the Chin Human Rights Organization, said he also was pleased about the lawmaker’s release.
“We gladly welcome his release,” he said. “We are also grateful to the AA for releasing him unharmed.”
“Because Chin people and Rakhine people are neighbors, when we have problems, we should work together to resolve them without ruining our friendship,” he added.
RFA could not reach Whay Tin, members of his family, or a Myanmar military spokesman for comment.
The AA has offered a prisoner-of-war swap with Myanmar forces in exchange for the release of people detained by the military for alleged ties to the AA, but the government army has declined.
Reported by Nay Myo Htun for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.