An American and an Austrian citizen who were detained by police after being stopped at a militia checkpoint in northern Shan State’s Muse on Wednesday have been released after questioning, according to Shan State police.
Police identified the two as United States citizen Nazaryan Khachaturn and Austrian citizen Christian Jonnex Viets. Local police initially incorrectly reported that Viets held Australian citizenship.
Pol-Col Aung Myat Moe, second-in-command of Shan State police, told DVB the two were questioned over security concerns as they were travelling in an area with “insurgent” activities. They were detained at a checkpoint manned by the pro-government Pansay People’s Militia along the road between Nampatka and Namhkam.
“The militia stopped them as they were travelling in an area where insurgents are active. We took them in for questioning as clashes frequently break out in the area, and we were concerned for their safety –they might have gotten caught up in the crossfire,” said Aung Myat Moe.
They were detained along with an ethnic Palaung [Ta-ang] man, Mung Nyi Lay, who police say they suspect to be a member of the rebel armed group the Ta-ang National Liberation Army (TNLA). The TNLA on Wednesday denied any connection.
Ammunition and 40 methamphetamine pills were seized from the Pajero SUV car the three were travelling in. Mung Nyi Lay, the driver, is reportedly still being questioned by police on possible narcotic and weapon charges.
“The two are an American and an Austrian national, and they are staying in Burma on legitimate visas. After questioning, we handed them over to immigration and they were escorted back to Lashio where they were provided with travel expenses and released,” said Aung Myat Noe.
Foreigners, while still allowed to travel in conflict-wrought Muse district, should avoid visiting areas prone to fighting and, if they must, should speak to local authorities and police beforehand, he added.
The US Embassy in Rangoon on 29 April told DVB they were aware of the case and providing consular assistance for the US citizen, prior to his release.