Arakan Army Releases Firefighters Detained in Myanmar’s Rakhine State

myanmar-detained-firefighters-rakhine-oct-2019.jpg The names and photos of firefighters abducted by suspected Arakan Army soldiers appear on a poster in western Myanmar's Rakhine state, October 2019.

The Arakan Army on Wednesday released 18 firefighters detained in October in western Myanmar’s war-torn Rakhine state, saying that its soldiers are holding no others civilians except for a local lawmaker taken three days ago.

A statement issued by the Arakan Army (AA), which is fighting government forces in a quest for greater autonomy in Rakhine state, lists the names and personal information of the 18 men on a statement it issued about their release.

The statement also said that the ethnic army is holding legislator Hwai Tin for security reasons, but did not elaborate.

AA soldiers detained 18 firefighter recruits and the deputy station chief of the state Fire Services Department on Oct. 11 as they traveled on a bus from central Myanmar’s Mandalay region to Rakhine’s capital Sittwe after completing basic firefighting training in the town of Pyin Oo Lwin.

The AA troops believed that the firemen were auxiliary soldiers of the national army.

On Oct. 28, the AA released a dozen other bus passengers it had detained, including construction workers, after determining that they were civilians and had no connection to the Myanmar military.

On Tuesday, the AA freed 25 of 58 captives abducted on Oct. 26 from a passenger vessel traveling from Sittwe to Buthidaung township along a river in Rakhine state, after concluding that they were civilians.

After hijacking the ferry, the AA separated national army soldiers from civilian passengers and moved them onto smaller speedboats, later located by Myanmar military helicopters which opened fire on the rebels while conducting a search for the abductees.

Four of the 25 released Tuesday went home on their own, while local lawmakers took the others to Buthidaung where they were held for questioning by border guard police for more than 24 hours, their relatives said.

They were let go at about 6:30 p.m. local time Wednesday, Rakhine legislators said.

‘Too terrified’

Tun Shwe, a 32-year-old schoolteacher who was among the detained civilians, had to be taken to a medical facility and was later transferred to Buthidaung Hospital after he experienced health problems, his older sister, Nilar Thein, told RFA’s Myanmar’s Service.

“Maybe he was too terrified,” she said. “He couldn’t eat properly or sleep. He called me this morning. He cried, saying he could not eat or sleep well.”

The family requested emergency assistance to transfer Tun Shwe to a military hospital where medical personnel said he required an IV drip, sleeping pills, and stabilizer drugs, she added.

“He has now been admitted to the hospital [in Buthidaung]” she said.

Prior to the detainees’ release by police, some of their relatives waited outside the police station entrance and questioned why their loved ones hadn’t yet been freed.

“We are so concerned now,” said Sein Hla Phyu, a family member of detainee Maung Myint Naing. “He was already terrified when he was detained.”

Maung Myint Naing, who is not in good health, must take medication, though family members had not been allowed to see him, Sein Hla Phyu added.

Maung Kyaw Zan, a local lawmaker from Buthidaung township, said the release of the detainees might have been delayed because seven of those held gave different accounts of what had happened while they were being questioned on Wednesday.

“There are 19 people being interrogated,” he said at the time. “They have taken two of them separately. We don’t know where they are being detained now. They are no longer here.”

Members of the township police force and officials from the police force’s Special Intelligence Unit from Maungdaw township conducted the interrogations, he said. Authorities from the Tactical Operation Command arrived Wednesday morning to question the detainees along with officers from the No. 3 Border Guard Police.

Buthidaung township lawmaker Maung Kyaw Zan said those released by the AA had been interrogated as witnesses to their abduction.

Rathedaung township native Kyaw Htay, one of the people the AA let go on, had been detained Wednesday for questioning at a police station in Sittwe, said Aung Than Wai, a member of the Rakhine Vanguard Party, who was with him in the morning.

“We arrived this morning on the Malikha passenger boat,” he told RFA. “Police and security forces accompanied him. The police commander said he has been detained at the No. 1 Myoma Police Station in Sittwe for questioning. ”

RFA could not reach authorities from the Rakhine State Police Force for comment on the detainees.

But Colonel Win Zaw Oo, spokesman for the Myanmar’s military’s Western Command, said that the questioning was part of authorities’ usual practice.

“This is normal procedure,” he said. “Once they were released, they were detained for questioning for intelligence information. Then they would be released afterwards.”

Reported by RFA's Myanmar Service. Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

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