Several officials of Myanmar’s ruling party in Rakhine state have gone into hiding after a group of unidentified men wearing police uniforms tried to arrest them at their homes, a lawmaker from the volatile region said Wednesday.
The officials the group tried to arrest said they suspect that the disguised men were members of the Arakan Army (AA), a mostly ethnic Rakhine military that is fighting Myanmar forces for greater autonomy for the Rakhine people in the western state.
Min Aung, a lawmaker from Taungup township’s No. 2 electoral district, said some of the targeted officials, who are members of the National League for Democracy (NLD) party, are now on the run to avoid apprehension by the men.
The group of men surrounded the home of Than Htay, a township-level NLD executive committee member who has a party signboard on his property in Bushwemaw village, prompting him to flee to safety, Min Aung said.
A group of men in police uniforms also tried to arrest Win Hlaing, a state-level NLD executive committee member, at his home in Kyaw Kaing village, he said.
“He was suspicious of them and has been on the run,” he added.
Min Aung also said that NLD members had recently received several death threats from fake user accounts on social media.
Than Htay said he received a death threat by phone on April 9 from someone speaking in an ethnic Rakhine dialect.
“On the night of April 9, someone called me saying they would come to kill me and that they know what I did,” he told RFA.
“Then on the night of April 14, I heard someone trying to break the gate of the fence [to my home],” he said. “When I looked out, I saw five men, three of whom held rods, and two others who were not armed. I think they are the ones who called me with the death threat.”
The men ran away when relatives and neighbors noticed them trying to break into the housing compound and started to take action, Than Htay said, adding that he is certain they were AA members.
Min Aung suggested that after the abductors looked for Than Htay but could not find him, they instead seized his close friend, villager Than Shwe.
Myanmar’s military commander-in-chief’s office later announced that the AA had abducted Than Shwe, who was identified as chairman of the village’s COVID-19 Disease Protection Committee.
The AA has engaged in intensified hostilities with the Myanmar military in northern Rakhine for 16 months, with clashes spilling over into Paletwa township of neighboring Chin state.
Both the AA and Myanmar military routinely detain and interrogate civilians and local government employees whom they believe may be assisting the enemy.
Similarly on May 2, four men in plainclothes went to the home of the administrator of Kyaw Kaing village and demanded that he bring Win Hlaing to them, Than Htay said.
At the time, the administrator refused because the men were not wearing police uniforms, he said.
Though the men later returned in uniform to seize Win Hlaing, the state-level NLD executive committee member avoided capture by hiding, he said.
The group threatened the village administrator, saying that they would kill his family if he could not deliver Win Hlaing to them, Than Htay said.
Police Major Than Naing, head of the Taungup Township Police, said the men who tried to arrest the NLD party members were not officers, but he declined to provide any details about the incidents.
Neither Zaw Htay, spokesmen for the President’s Office, nor Rakhine state municipal affairs minister and spokesman Win Myint were available for comment.
NLD party spokesman Monywa Aung Shin told RFA that he had not yet received any reports about the incidents.
“If they are true, they should have been reported to the state government or to local members of parliament,” he said.
“Going on the run to avoid being abducted is good,” he added. “It’s the right decision. We don’t know which groups these assailants belong to, so I suggest they first inform local authorities and then avoid being abducted.”
Arakan Army responds
AA spokesman Khine Thukha said that accusations that the men were AA members are groundless and suggested that they were fabrications to damage the reputation of the AA.
“We have nothing to do with these issues,” he said.
The AA has seized other lawmakers and NLD party members in recent months.
Whay Tin, an NLD lawmaker from Chin’s Paletwa township, was abducted in November 2019 because the AA believed he was a Myanmar military informant who had helped soldiers arrest ethnic Rakhines in the township.
The AA freed him in January as a goodwill gesture amid the ongoing fighting.
The AA also abducted Ye Thein, chairman of the NLD in Rakhine’s Rathedaung township in December, for organizing a public rally in support of State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi.
Nearly two weeks later, the rebel force said he was killed during a mortar attack by the Myanmar military.
Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.