Dozens of village and ward administrators in a township in western Myanmar’s war-scarred Rakhine state submitted their resignations on Friday out of fear of arbitrary arrest by the Myanmar military, following the recent detentions of three of their colleagues on terrorism charges.
Government soldiers have stepped up the seizure and arrest of village officials and other civilians in the state amid the 17-month armed conflict against the Arakan Army (AA), charging them under Myanmar’s Counter-Terrorism Law for allegedly having ties to the outlawed rebel ethnic force.
Fifty-one village and ward administrators in Myebon township, one of several areas in northern Rakhine hit by heavy fighting, filed resignation letters at the township administration office, some of the officials told RFA. The township has 14 wards and 59 village tracts.
“We don’t live in the conflict area,” said one official in a section of the township, who requested anonymity out of concern for his safety. “We don’t have connections to AA troops. We never interact with terrorist organizations, and we don’t want them here.”
“But if the authorities keep arresting us on grounds of suspicion [for having alleged links to the AA], we will not able to perform our administrative functions,” he added. “That’s why we are resigning.”
On Wednesday, military and police forces arrested Aung Than, a ward administrator from Myebon town, and villager Tin Tun believing them to have ties to the AA, officials said.
Four days earlier, security forces in Myebon township arrested Maung Zaw, administrator of A-ngu Thit village, and Kyaw Myint, administrator of Ywa Thit Kay village, and charged them under two sections of the Counter-Terrorism Law for allegedly having connections to Arakan forces.
Family members of the two officials, who were remanded by the Myebon Township Court on Wednesday, say the accusations against them are false.
Myebon township lawmaker Pe Than said he believes that authorities will prosecute the pair.
“Yesterday, the ward administrator from the Thae Tan area was asked to sign as witness to the discovery of two cell phones and documents as evidence from the two men,” he said. “I think the authorities are working on charging them.”
RFA could not reach Myebon township administrator Zarni Kyaw for comment.
Htay Maung, deputy director of Rakhine state's administrative department, said he did not know about the arrests, while Aung Than Zaw, commander of the Myebon Township Police Station, said he could not respond to media inquiries over the phone.
Rule of law weakened
Pe Than said Friday’s mass resignation of administrators would weaken the rule of law and order in the region.
“So far, three administrators have been arrested, and it has intimidated other village administrators,” he said. “Some are fleeing from their homes. If several administrators quit, no one will perform the administrative functions, and it will weaken the rule of law.”
“We need these administrators to secure peace and stability,” he added. “Their resignations, caused by fear, are not good for the region or for the government.”
Local residents said that Myanmar soldiers who have been posted to the police station in Myebon town since May have begun interrogations of administrators and others in the area, though the military was never previously in the region.
Myanmar military spokesman Brigadier Gen Zaw Min Tun told RFA on Wednesday that the interrogations of Htay Maung and Aung Than Zaw revealed that they had links to the AA, though a spokesman from the Arakan force denied it.
Scores of administrators resigned from their positions in Rakhine’s Kyauktaw, Rathedaung, Mrauk-U, and Minbya townships in 2019, following the arrests of administrative officials amid the armed conflict.
Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.