The Myanmar Police Force has filed charges against four top leaders of the rebel Arakan Army (AA) along with several residents of Kyaung Taung village under the country’s Counter-Terrorism Law amid ongoing fighting between government forces and the ethnic military in western Myanmar’s war-torn Rakhine state, a court attorney said Monday.
On July 4, authorities charged commander-in-chief Major General Tun Myat Naing, deputy commander Nyo Htun Aung, Brigadier General Kyaw Han, and spokesman Khine Thukha for violating the law, and declared them fugitives, said Aye Nu Sein, an attorney based at the Rakhine State High Court in Sittwe.
They are accused of involvement in a deadly January assault on police outposts and subsequent roadside bomb attacks, and of inciting 13 villagers from Mrauk-U township to assist the AA in its clashes with Myanmar troops, she said.
The move against members of the AA, an ethnic Rakhine army fighting for greater autonomy in the state, is the first in which any ethnic leaders have been charged under the Counter-Terrorism Law.
If convicted, the AA leaders face three to seven years in jail with or without a fine under the law’s Section 52(a).
The Myanmar government has excluded the AA from its faltering peace process to try to end decades of civil war in the country.
Following the armed assault on the police outposts six months ago, government officials declared the AA a terrorist group and ordered its forces to wipe out the rebel army.
Another individual named San Shwe Maung was also charged along with the four AA officials, but rebel army spokesman Khine Thukha said he did not know him.
“They have been saying that they want us in the peace negotiation process, and they had invited us publicly,” he told RFA’s Myanmar Service. “On the other hand, they issued arrest warrants for us while they are asking us to join the negotiations. I view this action as an intent to break up the peace negotiation processes.”
“By charging us for a crime and issuing arrest warrants for our leaders, they are telling us we will not be allowed to travel to their territories,” he said. “In fact, the Myanmar military has been planning this since last March. That’s the reason we cannot join the peace talks, although we have been invited.”
12 villagers charged
A dozen of the 13 villagers from Mrauk-U township arrested by Myanmar soldiers in March for alleged involvement with the AA have also been charged under the country’s Counter-Terrorism Law, said Aye Nu Sein, who is representing the men. The other one died of malaria while in military detention.
“The charge implicates [Major General] Tun Myat Naing and ... others from the AA as perpetrators [who incited the villagers], so they have also been charged as defendants,’ she said. “But the interrogations are still going on, and because they haven’t been arrested yet, they are classified as fugitives.”
Deputy police commander Aung Thura of the Mrauk-U police station has also charged the villagers for allegedly carrying out the January attacks on the police outposts, which left 13 officers dead, and bomb blasts on roads in Rakhine state.
Khine Thukha said that the 12 villagers charged under the Counter-Terrorism Law have no connections to the AA.
When RFA contacted deputy police commander Tin Min Oo from Mrauk-U township for comment on the case, he said he did not know about it and was not authorized to discuss it.
“The military is in charge of the investigation,” he said. “I am currently traveling on duty. I don’t know much about it.”
Brigadier General Win Zaw Oo, spokesman for the military’s Western Regional Command, which is responsible for Rakhine state, also told RFA that he did not know about the case. RFA was unable to reach military spokesman Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun.
Myanmar political analyst Than Soe Naing said the charges against the four AA leaders throw another wrench into the country’s peace process.
“I understand that AA leaders were concerned about their security, and that's one reason the peace process between the two parties has been halted,” he said. “It is because of mutual distrust. If they genuinely want peace, they will overcome that problem. If they didn't really mean what they said about the peace process, it will still be complicated.”
The next court hearing for the accused is scheduled for July 18, according the Myanmar’s Mizzima online news service.
Villager dies of gunshot wound
In a related development, a resident of Kyauktan village in Rakhine’s Rathedaung township who was among eight men injured in a shooting in May while being detained by the Myanmar military on suspicion of involvement with the AA, died Saturday at a local hospital where he was being treated for a wound, his wife said.
Maung Zaw Lin was one of eight villagers shot on May 14 when Myanmar security forces fired on some of the 300 residents they had rounded up for interrogation for allegedly having connections to a nearby Arakan Army training camp.
According to RFA’s reporting, Maung Zaw Lin is the 15th civilian who has died while in military or police custody or detention since March 2019 during the Rakhine conflict.
The military said the soldiers had to open fire when some of the detainees in a school compound tried to attack guards, despite the firing of warning shots. Other witnesses denied there had been warning shots and said the chaos broke out when a mentally disturbed man started yelling at night.
Maung Zaw Lin’s wife, Khine Soe Win, told RFA that her husband, who was taken to Sittwe Hospital after the shooting to be treated for a hand injury, came down with a fever, had blood in his stools, and had to receive blood transfusions.
“After one bottle of blood, his eyes became dilated, then he almost lost consciousness after the second bottle,” she said. “Later when he received a third bottle, he passed out. His injured hand was swollen from infection, and he had to be given oxygen.”
Khine Soe Win said after her husband was discharged from the hospital, the wound became infected and his arm swelled because he had not received proper medical treatment.
“He passed away around 10 p.m. on Saturday,” she said. “The doctor said his bullet wound was severely infected when he was admitted to the hospital.”
Maung Zaw Lin’s family cremated him on Monday afternoon.
When RFA spoke to Maung Zaw Lin about the shooting before he died, he appealed to military authorities not to harm innocent civilians amid the armed conflict.
“I am so concerned that these arbitrary accusations, beatings, torture, and killings will keep on happening,” he said. “So, I would like to appeal to them to stop doing this to the people.”
Myat Tun, director of the Sittwe-based Rakhine Human Rights Protection Group, said the military’s use of torture against civilians suspected of having ties to the AA is not uncommon.
“During ongoing conflicts, the military has arrested local civilians and interrogated them using torture,” he told RFA. “Many have died because of beatings to their hands. Some died later from their injuries. These acts amount to committing war crimes.”
Brigadier General Win Zaw Oo said he had not been informed about Maung Zaw Lin’s death. RFA could not reach Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun or Major General Tun Tun Nyi from the military’s information committee for comment.
Reported by Wai Mar Tun and Min Thein Aung for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.