Four of six ethnic Rakhine men arrested in Singapore for allegedly mobilizing support for the Arakan Army (AA) rebel group arrived back in Myanmar Wednesday night, though authorities have held behind the brother of a top AA commander and another detainee whose identity is unknown, sources close to those arrested told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
Authorities in Singapore apprehended the Myanmar nationals, including Aung Myat Kyaw, the younger brother of AA commander-in-chief Major General Tun Myat Naing, on Wednesday, for “using Singapore as a platform to organize and garner support for armed violence against the Myanmar government,” the country’s Ministry of Home Affairs said in a statement.
The ethnic Rakhine military is engaged in a fierce conflict with Myanmar forces in violence-ridden Rakhine state, where it is seeking greater autonomy.
The sources, who declined to be identified because they fear they also might be arrested, said that the Arakanese Association-Singapore (AAS) — an organization of which the men are members — has provided relief aid and funds for social activities to ethnic Rakhines displaced by war in the northern part of the state.
The AAS also provided funding for political activities in the state in 2015, the year when the last general elections were held, they said.
Sources suggested that authorities may have arrested the six men for failing to obtaining an official operating license for the organization.
RFA was unable to reach the Singaporean embassy in Yangon and the Myanmar embassy in Singapore to confirm this information.
On Wednesday, the Myanmar online journal The Irrawaddy named AAS chairman Hein Zaw, vice-chair Aye Myat Mon, communications officer Ye Kyaw Htet, and Tin Hlaing Oo and Tun Aye as the other five individuals who were arrested.
Zaw Htay, director general of Myanmar President Win Myint’s office, said Thursday that the government would issue an official announcement about the six men at the appropriate time.
Police Commander Myo Thu Soe, spokesman of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, told RFA that he had not received any information about the men from his Singaporean counterparts.
“We haven’t had contact with them,” he said. “We talked about it yesterday. The Singaporean police force hasn’t informed us officially yet. I saw the news on the internet.”
Military spokesman Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun said Myanmar forces were not involved in the arrests.
“The military has no involvement in this case,” he told RFA. “They would not have been expelled without credible evidence of their offense because the Singaporean police force is from a democratic country.”
RFA was unable to obtain comments from the four detainees after they arrived at the airport in Yangon.
‘Attempt to degrade AA leaders’
The arrests of the six ethnic Rakhine men in Singapore came a week after Myanmar police filed charges against four top AA leaders, including Major General Tun Myat Naing and several residents of Kyaung Taung village, under the country’s Counter-Terrorism Law.
On July 4, authorities charged the commander-in-chief, AA deputy commander Nyo Htun Aung, Brigadier General Kyaw Han, and spokesman Khine Thukha for violating the law with their alleged involvement in a deadly January assault on police outposts, subsequent roadside bomb attacks, and the incitement of a group of villagers to assist the AA in its clashes with Myanmar troops.
Authorities also declared the four leaders fugitives.
The Myanmar government declared the AA a terrorist group following the attacks on police outposts and ordered its forces to wipe out the rebel army.
But critics of the move said Thursday that charging the AA leaders under the act was a hostile gesture that flies in the face of the government’s attempts to end decades of civil war in Myanmar.
Though the AA has so far been excluded from Myanmar’s peace process because of its ongoing involvement in hostilities with national forces, officials recently invited the Rakhine army to the negotiating table, Khine Thukha told RFA in an earlier report.
Aye Nu Sein, vice chairwoman of the Arakan National Party (ANP), the dominant political party in Rakhine state, said the announcement about the arrests could further delay peace negotiations between the government, the military, and the AA.
“As an attorney and a party official, I see this as an attempt to degrade the Arakan Army leaders,” she said. “This action could sidetrack the peace negotiation process that the government has repeatedly promoted in its speeches. Its future will become uncertain. Who will join in the peace process when these [AA leaders] have been charged as criminals?”
Not even a scratch
Myanmar political analyst Maung Maung Soe said that branding the AA leaders as fugitives could bring the country’s peace talks to an end.
“Because they have declared the AA leaders as fugitives, the AA leaders will be concerned about attending the peace talks in Myanmar, and this could halt the process,” he told RFA, but added that the parties could possibly meet for negotiations in neighboring China.
“Declaring the AA leaders as fugitives is an attempt to degrade them politically,” he said.
Myanmar spokesman Zaw Htay told RFA that the government would ensure the safety of the AA leaders if they wanted to go participate in the negotiations.
“We will take responsibility for their safety if they decide to come for the peace talks,” he said. “If they come, we will make sure they don’t even get as much as a scratch. We have talked about that.”
But military spokesman Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun insisted the four AA leaders should be charged.
“I have [already] said that they should be charged because they attacked the police outposts that protected ethnic minorities in the border area, along with other nonmilitary facilities.”
Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.