Twenty-three people have been detained by police in the Arakan State town of Kyauktaw on suspicion of connections with rebel ethnic group the Arakan Army.
Pol-Cmdr Khin Maung told DVB that the Burmese army had been rounding up suspected associates or members of the Arakan Army across western Burma since 2 May. They have been sent to the Kyauktaw police station to face charges, he said.
“They are from various parts of the region including Buthidaung, Maungdaw, Ponnakyun, Rathedaung, Kyaukphyu, Mrauk-U and Myebon. They began arriving from the 2 May onwards, on different dates,” said Khin Maung.
He said that most of the detainees confessed to being AA members during interrogation by the military.
AA’s Vice Chief-of-Staff Nyo Tun Aung told DVB it is a well-known government tactic to prosecute locals for alleged connections to rebel groups across Burma in order to dispirit the armed resistance. However he did also confirm that members of the AA are among those detained in Kyauktaw.
“There have been examples in the past with the government prosecuting revolutionaries – not only the Arakanese but also other ethnic groups – in order to demoralise armed struggles,” said Nyo Tun Aung.
“In these most recent cases in Kyauktaw, it’s true that some of the individuals being held are our comrades, and they are being charged under the Unlawful Association Act, such as Article 17(1) for alleged connection to an armed group.”
More than a thousand people in Burma’s western Arakan State have been left facing food shortages as ongoing fighting between rebels and Burmese government forces cuts off access to commercial centres.
Clashes between the AA and the Burmese army were initially reported on 17 and 18 April in what the AA described as the “longest and fiercest” fighting seen with government forces in the state.
The AA originated in Kachin State’s Laiza and has been recently fighting alongside a Kokang militia known as the Myanmar Nationalities Democratic Alliance Army close to the Chinese border in northern Shan State.
The AA is a member of the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team but is not officially recognised by the Burmese government. The AA has this year made manoeuvres for the first time in western Burma, citing frustration with the peace process.
“We were very upset because the government does not recognise our claim to membership in the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team,” Gen. Nyo Tun Aung told Reuters in April.
“The Arakan Army will be more active in Rakhine [Arakan] State in the future since our army is stronger than before. It’s time to stand along with our people,” he added.
Number of AA troops have swelled over the past twelve months, he said, now up to more than 2,000, from around 300. They have been receiving training from the powerful Kachin Independence Army (KIA).