Two teachers believed to have been abducted by the militant Islamic Arakhine Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) have yet to be released as of June 18.
Bangladeshi authorities were notified of the incident, and today Burmese Border Guard Forces (BGF) claimed to have arrested 13 suspects, holding them inside the BGF’s Kyee Kan Pyin headquarters in Maungdaw township, sources said.
The headmaster of Thinbaw Hla Village Primary School, Bo Win, and Ohnmar Kyaw, an assistant teacher, disappeared on their way to the Maungdaw Township Education Office on the afternoon of June 16.
Kidnappers later demanded a ransom of 5 million Bangladeshi taka (US$53,700).
“Of the 50 lakh (US$54,000) that was demanded, 20 lakh was transferred to a Bangladeshi bank account today (June 19)”, an education worker who is working to free the two victims told DVB.
“The current situation is complicated. No one can say whether they were abducted for ransom or because they did not pay a debt. Only the victims know,” a Maungdaw resident added.
Before the random demand was presented, around 200 locals from five villages in the township had searched for the abductees and are awaiting their return. Three people were injured after unidentified gunmen attacked searchers on June 19.
“Today [June 19] we gathered more than 200 people and divided ourselves into six groups. A group from Kwan Thee Pin village tract was shot at. Border Guard Forces are pursuing the attackers,” a local involved in the search operation told DVB.
Locals say that 50 people involved in the search fled and some are still missing after the attack.
“Our search has ended. We have no weapons. BGFs joined us in our search operation but they were not allowed to enter the homes of suspects,” Maung Hla Thein, a resident of Thayar Gone village, told DVB.
A resident of Nantha Taung village added that, although BGFs cooperated with locals, they did not seem to be invested in the investigation.
“We do not care about our own lives, have cooperated with armed groups to conduct search operation to help and find the victims as soon as possible. However, we seem to be the only ones searching for the pair — the armed groups slept and rested in the ruins of mosques. They were not interested in the search,” the resident said.
The Arakan Army’s commander-in-chief, Maj. Gen. Mrat Twan Naing, accused ARSA of being behind the kidnappings.
“Two teachers being kidnapped by ARSA near the Bangladesh border is not only a grave disservice to fellow Muslims in Bangladeshi refugees camps who crave repatriation, but it could hamstring our judicious efforts to ameliorate trust and social cohesion among different communities in Arakan,” the AA leader tweeted.
Junta officials have yet to comment on the teachers’ abduction.
ARSA is believed to be experiencing a recent resurgence in Maungdaw township, and the militant group has been accused of numerous crimes including kidnappings, murder, robberies, and the forced recruitment of Rohingya in refugee camps.
A former Hluttaw MP for Maungdaw, Tun Hla Sein, suggested the rising crime rate was due to security vulnerabilities along the border and poor road networks in the region.
“The [border] fences are not secure. Without secure fences, the area will not be safe no matter how many police outposts are built,” he said.
Hla Tun Kyaw, another former MP for Maungdaw township, said that, despite its large presence in the region, the military had no interest in protecting the lives of locals and instead focuses on the security of its camps and bases.
“Security forces appear to be strong in the area, but they are very weak in providing security for locals. This discrepancy causes problems and they [the authorities] never stand up firmly for the people to solve these issues,” he added.
In August 2021, an administrator from predominately Muslim Padin village in Maungdaw was abducted. He was released on Sep. 3 after a ransom was paid.
Similarly, a father and son were abducted in June 2021 and released after a large ransom was paid to their abductors.
No perpetrators behind the spree of kidnappings, robberies, and murders in the township have so far been arrested.
Authorities in Bangladesh recently made the arrests of dozens of alleged ARSA members in connection with the murder, in Cox’s Bazaar, of prominent Rohingya rights activist Mohib Ullah.