Three villagers detained by Myanmar forces immediately following a weekend raid to free captives taken from a passenger ferry hijacked by the rebel Arakan Army in strife-torn Rakhine state escaped Wednesday while being held for interrogation in Rathedaung township, relatives of two of the men said Thursday.
Two residents of Kyauktan village — Saw Maung Thein, also known as Nga Mae, 56, and Tun Wai, 49 — fled from their military captors with several injuries on their heads and bodies and have been treated at Rathedaung Hospital, the family members told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
Though three villagers escaped from military detention, no one has been in contact with the third person, they said.
Many Kyauktan residents fled their homes when Myanmar military helicopters and ground troops began conducting clearance operations after the AA abducted 58 passengers from the Shwe Nadi ferry Saturday as it made its way from Rakhine state's capital Sittwe to Buthidaung township in the north, forcing it to dock on the banks of the Mayu River.
AA soldiers loaded the 58 onto three motorboats, while leaving some civilians behind on the vessel which was allowed to proceed upriver. In a matter of hours, Myanmar military helicopters located the motorboats and exchanged gunfire with rebels while conducting a search for the abductees.
Among those forced onto the speedboats were 14 Myanmar military soldiers, 29 policemen, 13 civilians, and two government officials, according to a government announcement.
It is not known how far Kyauktan is from the abduction site, and there has been no word on the fate of the other hostages or the condition of 15 security personnel and civilians who were rescued amid the dramatic helicopter attack.
Family members of the two escapees said Myanmar soldiers arrested Saw Maung Thein and Tun Wai on their farms about 440 yards from Kyauktan village.
Than Naing, a local villager related to both men, said the pair sustained injuries while being tortured during the military’s interrogation to determine whether they had links to the AA.
“They interrogated them to see if they had connections with the Arakan Army,” he told RFA. “But they didn’t do it in a humane way. They stabbed them with knives and an iron crowbar. They tied their necks with rope and severely kicked them.”
“The [two escapees] said they were told to dig their own graves,” he said. “They said they escaped while their guard was falling asleep.”
Than Naing said the military also detained and investigated five residents of Yay Poke village, which was surrounded by government troops during the fighting.
Saw Maung Thein and Tun Wai, who were denied food and drinking water while in military custody, are in bad shape, said Khine Myo Htun, who visited the two men at the hospital.
“They have many cuts on their heads as well as on the rest of their bodies,” he said. “One of them has very serious injuries from being hit with a sword blade and stabbed with a knife.”
“When I visited them at the hospital, they [hospital workers] were stitching the patients’ cuts on their heads,” he said. “They got them from being hit with an iron crowbar.”
People who helped the two men said they transferred them to a secure location in the afternoon because authorities were looking for them while they received treatment at the hospital.
No arrests made
Colonel Win Zaw Oo, commander of the Myanmar military’s Western Command, denied accusations that soldiers had tortured the two men, and said that the allegations could be AA propaganda.
“Our troops were conducting clearance operations after passengers on the speedboat had been kidnapped the other day,” he said. “When we sent our troops to the area to rescue the survivors, we found Kyauktan village deserted.”
Myanmar troops found only 11 people who were either elderly or sick still in the village, he said.
“What could we do with these elderly people?” Win Zaw Oo asked. “My point is their accusations are wrong. It is true that our troops were conducting clearance operations in that area, but they didn’t make any arrests.”
He also said the military was currently not detaining any civilians suspected of having connections to the AA.
The armed conflict between Myanmar forces and the AA has killed at least 90 civilians and displaced tens of thousands of civilians in Rakhine and neighboring Chin state since hostilities escalated in late 2018.
Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.