Monday, July 24, 2017

Arakan Army denies drug trade accusations

Arakan Army officers have strongly denied a government accusation that they fund their military activities and weapons purchases through the sale of illegal drugs. The United League for Arakan, the group’s political wing, has lashed out at a story in state-owned media yesterday that stated the movement funded its activities with illegal narcotics sales.

The spokesperson insisted the AA had no connection with drugs.

The Global New Light of Myanmar reported yesterday, in a front-page story entitled “How to Fund a War”, that the seizure of 330,800 stimulant pills and weapons by Yangon police last month was connected to the Rakhine State-based ethnic armed group.

On February 6, police arrested a man named as Aung Myat Kyaw after finding a “suspicious” vehicle in Tarmwe township. Police said a search of the vehicle led to the discovery of 42 pieces of military equipment, including plastic explosives, at a house in North Dagon township. The other resident of the house, named as Wai Tha Tun, was also arrested.

A search of his house in North Okkalapa township discovered the stimulants. Further searches of properties linked to Wai Tha Tun in Hlaing Tharyar township and Rambre township, Rakhine State, last month discovered thousands of rounds of heavy machine gun ammunition, dynamite, smoke bombs and detonators, and other weapons and explosives.

Police said Aung Myat Kyaw was a lieutenant colonel in the Arakan Army and, according to the state-owned media story yesterday, said he had admitted that the AA engaged in illegal drug dealing to finance their weapons purchases. He also reportedly admitted making 14 arms deliveries to Sittwe, Rakhine State, over the past two years.

U Khaing Thu Kha, of the group’s information department, told The Myanmar Times yesterday that the weapons belonged to the AA, but that it had no connection with illegal drugs.

“The government always accuses ethnic armed groups of drug dealing. We deny this false accusation,” he said.

The ULA/AA released a statement yesterday condemning the state-run media for damaging their dignity in the eyes of the international community.

“We don’t support, sell, produce or distribute drugs,” said the statement, adding that the confession had been forced.

U Khine Thu Kha said the government had no desire to eradicate drugs and opium fields, which they blamed on ethnic armed groups.

“We’ve already seen how the government acted when Pat Ja San asked them for help in destroying the poppy fields in Kachin State,” he said, referring to the attempts of a Kachin Christian voluntary organisation to destroy poppy fields in Waingmaw township.

The group abandoned its attempt to destroy the fields after a violent clash with the poppy growers after local police and military said they could not protect the activists.

The AA clashed with Tatmadaw forces on February 27 in Buthidaung township, Rakhine State, killing two government soldiers, the group said. “We expect more fighting as the military are reinforcing their troops near the township,” said U Khine Thu Kha.