Myanmar’s military has rounded up several hundred people in several villages in Rakhine state for questioning about their ties to the Arakan Army (AA), holding 275 men after releasing women, children, and the elderly, local sources told RFA’s Myanmar Service on Wednesday.
Beginning on Tuesday, government troops swept into Kyauktan village and detained villagers to interrogate them about the AA, which has been engaged in hostilities with the army for much of 2019.
“A man who looks like a military officer arrived. He asked if the villagers had any connection to the AA. He also asked us not to associate with AA troops and to live in peace,” a villager in Kyauktan village told RFA.
Afterwards, the villager said, the military released all males younger than 15 and older than 50, closed the village gate, and detained the rest of the male residents for interrogation.
The detentions and interrogations were followed by an announcement by the military commander’s office that troops had captured an AA temporary training camp near Phong Nyo Leik village in Buthidaung township.
The troops have been interrogating the villagers from Kyauktan village since they got information that AA members retreating from the captured training camp were sheltering in disguise in Kyauktan and Zeydi Taung villages, the announcement said.
The announcement also said that military checks of the family registration records of 477 families in the two villages turned up 275 males aged between 15 and 50, and that the military proceeded to interrogate the men.
“We are currently still conducting interrogations of these people. This is not an arrest. We are just interrogating the particular individuals,” Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun of the military information committee told RFA.
Concern about Rakhine offensive
A male teacher who asked to remain anonymous said more than 10 teachers were among the detainees.
“They were released around 12 midnight yesterday but arrested again early this morning today. They are teachers from this village and other villages. They are mostly residents in this village,” the teacher told RFA on Wednesday.
“The military has never informed us about interrogations. We informed state officials about the issue, and they requested the list of staff being interrogated,” said Kyaw Mya, a Rathedaung township education official.
Asked about the teachers, Zaw Min Tun told RFA: “After the interrogations, when we can confirm they are real academic staff and are found to have no connection with the AA, they will be released.”
For its part, the AA denied that any camp had been captured in the area.
“There is no such incident of an AA camp getting captured. We never use civilians as cover,” said AA spokesman Khine Thukha.
“The Burmese military now holds the attitude that all Rakhines must be supporters of the insurgency, so they are part of insurgent forces, too. They are doing the interrogations because they view all Rakhine peoples as AA supporters,” he said.
Tin Maung Win, who represents Rathedaung township in the Rakhine state parliament, told RFA that he visited Kyauktan village Wednesday morning to check on the villagers being interrogated, but he was stopped at the entrance of the village by government troops.
Kyauktan village has experienced army searches twice since the conflict flared up in early January, but has never seen the army conduct mass detentions.
The interrogations in Rakhine came as the government military announced it had extended by another two months its unilateral Dec. 21-April 30 cease-fire in Kachin and Shan states.
The cease-fire now holds until June 30, but excludes Rakhine state.
Khine Thukha, the AA spokesman, said the exclusion of Rakhine “could mean that they will launch offensives exclusively in Rakhine state for two months. I think it will lead to more negative consequences.”
Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Paul Eckert.