Myanmar’s military is warning citizens in war-ravaged Rakhine state that members of the rebel Arakan Army (AA) are impersonating government troops in a scheme to smear the government amid a conflict in the state that flared up late last year.
Citing several incidents that occurred in Kyauktaw and Mrauk-U townships, the military is implying that the extrajudicial apprehension of village heads, students and others, their subsequent torture, and sudden disappearances were not at the hands of the government, but were carried out by the AA.
When government forces captured an AA outpost in the hills east of the Mrauk-U-Kyauktaw highway, they claimed they found government forces uniforms and insignia.
Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun from Myanmar’s military information committee told RFA’s Myanmar Service that AA soldiers use these insignia to detain and torture locals, thereby damaging the reputation of government forces in the area.
“They have done that in the past,” said the general, adding, “We have evidence of them impersonating government soldiers. There could be more cases like that now.”
“[This is why] we have circulated information among the locals so they can report instances where this is the case,” he said.
AA spokesperson Khine Thukha denied the general’s claim.
“We have never done that sort of thing, impersonating the government,” he said. “We carry out our work wearing only our own uniforms. If we detain someone, we always make official announcements.”
Khine Thukha also disagreed that the government was able to capture the AA outpost.
The AA claims to have repelled government troops from the area over the past few days, killing 30 government soldiers, with three casualties on its side.
On Feb. 21, Zaw Naing Naing, a 17-year-old student from Rakhine’s Kyauktaw township, was detained and beaten by government forces, according to his father Shwe Sein Oo and other witnesses.
'Military is everywhere'
Local citizens and civil society groups are rejecting the military’s accusations.
Zaw Win, a resident of Kyauktaw who has been assisting refugees from Rakhine’s conflict areas, said it was impossible that the AA would impersonate government troops.
“Because the military is everywhere in the state, it is not possible that Arakan Army soldiers [would be able to] impersonate the government,” he said.
“I don’t think Rakhine military forces would mistreat the citizens of Rakhine,” he said. “We can assume [this], given the fact that a majority of people in Rakhine support the Arakan Army.”
Local residents themselves have spoken up, attesting they are certain that it was the military that is mistreating locals, especially in areas where there are conflicts with the AA.
A source from Rakhine who wished to remain anonymous said he witnessed government troops beating villagers.
“They asked everyone in the village, including disabled and elderly people to lie flat on the lake bank and to not look back at them,” he said. “They asked us to bow our heads, and they tied up some villagers and beat them.”
Residents are reportedly welcoming the announcement that they can now report people posing as government soldiers, but are fearful that they themselves could be prosecuted by the government if they report the cruelty of the army soldiers.
Fighting in Rakhine and in neighboring Chin state has claimed a number of other lives, both military and civilian, and displaced about 7,000 civilians.
Reported by Kyaw Lwin Oo for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Eugene Whong.