Government forces in Myanmar’s Rakhine state arrested six civilians including a female schoolteacher on Wednesday, accusing them of ties to the rebel ethnic Arakan Army and charging them under Myanmar’s counter-terrorism law, sources in the country said.
The detentions came as RFA learned of the first known arrest of a local Rakhine policeman for alleged affiliations with the AA.
the six arrested Wednesday were taken to a police station in Kyauktaw township for questioning, a local resident told RFA’s Myanmar Service, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“They were arrested because they refused to answer military officers when they were asked whether Arakan Army soldiers were present in their village,” RFA’s source said, adding that the men and woman declined to speak because of concerns that AA fighters might actually be there.
Four of the five men were later released, but one man and the schoolteacher remain in military custody, sources said.
The Arakan Army has been fighting a 20-month-long battle against government forces in western Myanmar’s Rakhine state, where it seeks greater independence for ethnic Rakhines and wants to establish a base.
The fighting has killed 274 civilians and displaced nearly 200,000 since December 2018, according to figures compiled by RFA.
As fighting continues in the region, Myanmar’s military has detained increasing numbers of civilians living or found in combat zones.
In an apparent first, the detainees also included a police officer arrested in Kyautphyu township on June 28, sources told RFA on Wednesday.
Ye Ko Naing has now been charged under sections 50(a) and 52(a) of the counter-terrorism law, which forbids association with ethnic armies or other groups deemed “terrorist” by central government authorities.
“He is the first policeman to be charged under this law. It is because he got involved with the AA,” Police Lieutenant Colonel Kyaw Zaw said.
Two others held
Meanwhile, two men from Zin Chaung Village in Kyautphyu township—Win Naing and Maung Aye Naing—were detained and charged under the counter-terrorism law on July 7, Win Naing’s sister said, adding that her brother had run a shop selling mobile phones.
“They were arrested separately, and we don’t know what will happen with their cases next,” she said. “We want them to be freed if they’re not really guilty.”
“The police kept a computer, a photo printer, a mobile phone, and other related things from Win Naing,” she said.
Both men were allowed to see their families on Aug. 17 during an appearance in court, Kyaw Lwin, a member of parliament representing Kyautphyu township said. “As far as we know, no one arrested in Kyautphyu township was found with any weapons.”
Persons charged under the provisions of Myanmar’s counter-terrorism law can be sentenced to prison terms ranging from seven years to life, depending on the specific nature of the offense.
Neither the policeman nor any of the other civilians detained had connections to the Arakan Army, AA spokesman Khine Thukha told RFA, adding that Myanmar’s army was arresting civilians “because of a grudge” it holds against the people of Rakhine.
“The government doesn’t stop them, and even orders them to do it, so both the government and the military are responsible for war crimes in Rakhine,” he said.
Attempts to reach government spokesman Zaw Htay for comment on the arrests were unsuccessful Wednesday.
According to the Thazin Legal Aid Group based in the Rakhine capital Sittwe, 308 people have now been detained and charged in Rakhine under suspicion of involvement with the Arakan Army.
Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Richard Finney.