The Myanmar military on Wednesday rebuffed accusations by the Arakan Army (AA) that former military intelligence personnel working on behalf of the national army were among eight road construction workers the rebel soldiers apprehended near Myanmar’s border with India.
The AA detained the workers from the Su Htoo San Company, which is building the Paletwa-Mizoram highway to connect Myanmar and India, on March 30, after suspecting them of gathering information for the Myanmar Army.
On Tuesday, AA spokesman Khine Thukha confirmed the detention of the workers, saying that some have ties to Myanmar Army intelligence.
But on Wednesday, the Myanmar military said the workers have nothing to do with the army, though they could be former military intelligence employees.
Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun, secretary of the True News Information Team, denied accusations by the AA that the government army has links with military intelligence and is surveilling activities in connection with the road development project, which is part of the Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport Project.
“Some of the employees could probably be [former military intelligence workers] as they have been accused of,” he said. “But military intelligence at this time does not have many ties to the Tatmadaw [Myanmar military].”
“Some may be among them, but we don’t know,” he said. “The AA might have the intention to completely stop the project.”
Rakhine residents, many of whom support the AA, have decried the Kaladan project, a transportation corridor for shipping cargo from India’s eastern ports to Rakhine’s Sittwe seaport and then on to northeast India via river and highway routes through Myanmar.
They say they have been kept in the dark about the project and excluded from its potential benefits.
Khine Thukha said on Wednesday that the AA still suspects that some of the construction workers have been conducting surveillance activities under pretext of the Kalandan project.
“Most of them are former members of the military intelligence, so we have to continue investigating them for security reasons,” he said. “They came to the region to scout us under the disguise of employees of the Kaladan project.”
“Our arrests and investigation have nothing to do with the Kaladan project,” he added. “There’s no reason for us to oppose the project.”
RFA has been unable to reach Su Htoo San company managers for comment.
Stirring up trouble
The AA also said that a statement about the abductions issued by the Myanmar military’s information team on Tuesday sought to create misunderstandings with India in a bid to get the country to launch attacks on the Arakans. The Myanmar military dismissed the accusation as baseless.
“We are nations following five main principles of peaceful coexistence,” Zaw Min Tun said. “Noninterference in each other’s domestic affairs has firmly been stated in the policy. Our nation’s constitution doesn’t allow foreign troops to be deployed in the country. Neither does India’s.”
“There will be cooperation for stability and development at the border,” he continued. “But entering each other’s territory to fight the enemy has never occurred.”
The statement issued Tuesday by the True New Information Team also accused the AA of using small arms to attack and sink a boat transporting construction materials for a bridge project on March 16.
Khine Thukha said that the AA wants companies involved in development projects in conflict areas to inform the ethnic armed group if they need to transport construction materials, but Zaw Min Tun dismissed the demand, arguing that attacking nonmilitary targets is a violation of the military rules of engagement.
Hostilities between the government army and the AA, which is battling Myanmar forces in several Rakhine townships in its quest for greater autonomy in the state, reignited in late 2018 and exploded in early January after Arakan soldiers conducted deadly attacks on police outposts in northern Rakhine.
Reported by Wai Mar Tun for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Nandar Chann. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.