The military has begun arresting residents in Rakhine State for alleged links to the Arakan Army, in a move that is likely to complicate progress toward a nationwide ceasefire.
Media reports said up to 65 people had been interrogated and 15 arrested under the Unlawful Association Act in Kyauktaw township, where the Tatmadaw has recently battled the AA. Section 17(A) of the colonial-era legislation prohibits contact with unlawful groups, and carries a potential two-year jail term.
Police Major Khin Maung confirmed the arrests but declined to give details, referring questions to the military.
“These arrests were made under a military operation so we can’t speak about it,” Pol Maj Khin Maung said yesterday.
“The military hasn’t transferred these people to the police yet. They will face action like the Rakhine insurgents,” he said, referring to the arrest of at least seven members of the AA last week.
Lieutenant Colonel Nyo Tun Aung, the deputy commander-in-chief of the AA, confirmed that some of the group’s soldiers have been arrested by the military, along with civilians.
“The army arrested our soldiers and took their phones. They went through the photos on these phones and then arrested all of the people included in the photos. This includes the families and friends of the troops,” he said.
Military officials could not be reached for comment yesterday and the Tatmadaw has released no information on the arrests of civilians.
However, if confirmed the military’s actions will further complicate delicate progress toward the signing of a nationwide ceasefire.
The AA is a member of the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team, which negotiated the draft agreement on behalf of 16 groups. The ceasefire was signed “in principle” on March 31. Once confirmed all signatories would be removed from the list of unlawful groups.
The Tatmadaw’s use of the Unlawful Association Act, particularly in Kachin State, had been a major source of tension with armed groups. Few arrests under the law had been made over the past six months.
However, it appears to have taken a harder line with the AA because the Rakhine group is fighting alongside the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army in the Kokang Region of northeastern Shan State.
U Zaw Win, a member of a committee providing aid to conflict-affected areas of Rakhine State, said yesterday that the arrests were a violation of earlier pledges to no longer prosecute civilians for links to groups involved in the peace process.
“The government should not have arrested these people because the AA is participating in the peace process. Minister for the President’s Office [U Aung Min] has promised that he will take responsibility if people are arrested under this act,” he said.
Rakhine National Party leader U Aye Maung said the government should not distinguish between those fighting in Kokang and the other ethnic armed groups involved in peace talks.
“The government should recognise the three armed groups [the MNDAA, the AA and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army] as ethnic armed groups and open peace talks,” he said.
Officials from the NCCT co yesterday.