Village Leaders in Myanmar’s Kyauktaw Resign, Citing Military Arrests

Over 40 village administrators in the Kyauktaw township of Myanmar’s Rakhine state resigned their posts on Tuesday to protest the arrests of colleagues by military forces, saying that civilian workers suspected of involvement with the rebel Arakan Army should be investigated only in cooperation with civilian departments.

The move followed news that Shwe Phi Thar village administrator Thein Soe Aung and Minthat Thaung village administrator Aung Thein Kyaw had been detained by government soldiers for questioning and held for several days before being transferred to police custody.

Speaking to RFA’s Myanmar Service, Myanmar military spokesperson Brigadier General Zaw Min Htun confirmed the two men had been taken into custody.

“We arrested the two village heads and detained them because we suspect them as members of the Arakan Army [AA], and we are still investigating them,” Zaw Min Htun said.

“Whether they are village administrators or anyone else, if someone supports insurgents or terrorists, we will charge them [under the law],” he said.

Reached for comment by RFA, Htay Maung—deputy director of the Rakhine state governmen—confirmed that the letters had been sent, together with administrators’ badges and seals of office, but declined to discuss the case further and hung up the phone.

The administrative department of Kyauktaw township, which incorporates 84 villages from which 45 administrators have now resigned, could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.

Harassment, abuse common

Military harassment and abuse of civilian government workers is now common in Rakhine, Myothit Ward administrator Maung Than Hlaing told RFA on Wednesday.

“The military arrests and tortures us whenever they want,” Maung Than Hlaing, one of those submitting their resignation, said. “They detain us for as long as they want, and then send us to the police station later on.”

“As village administrators, we work under government authority, so they should ask the township administration office if they want to question us. That’s what we are demanding in our letter,” he said.

“We have already seen Rakhine state’s chief minister and told him about this, and he said he couldn’t do anything for us.”

Speaking to RFA on condition of anonymity, another village administrator submitting his resignation said that superiors in Kyauktaw township are also unable to help in cases of harassment by government or AA troops.

“The township administrator can’t do anything for us,” he said. “Whenever the military or AA come into our villages, they simply harass our village administrators for whatever they want. We can’t run away, because we don’t want them to think we are running because we’ve done something wrong.”

“If someone could take some responsibility for this, we would keep our jobs as village administrators,” he said.

Call for access, aid

Meanwhile, the Southeast Asian rights group Fortify Rights called on both government and AA forces in a news release Tuesday to ensure humanitarian access for civilians caught in clashes in the region, pointing also to what it called credible reports of  killings, torture, and arbitrary arrests by the Myanmar military of civilians in Rakhine.

“State security forces continue to act with complete impunity in Rakhine State,” Fortify Rights chief executive officer Matthew Smith, said on June 4. “The government must urgently ensure aid reaches all those in need and the international community should step up efforts to hold perpetrators accountable.”

Speaking to RFA, Brigadier General Zaw Min Htun denied accusations of abuse, saying that Myanmar’s military follows strict rules of engagement and takes care to avoid harm to civilians when conducting operations.

‘We warn all parties concerned not to fight near towns and villages so as to avoid causing damage or casualties to the local civilian population,” he said.

“In the case of arrests and interrogations, we always make announcements and say how many people are being detained, and we only press charges against detainees under current laws.”

Myanmar’s military consistently denies all accusations made against them, Fortify Rights spokesperson Nickey Diamond said, adding, “What they can’t deny is that both the AA and the military have committed crimes during the conflict in Rakhine state.”

Myanmar’s military is responsible for the majority of those crimes, however, Diamond said.

“We know that different rules are applied during wartime, but the military is still bound by international laws and should avoid attacking civilian populations. Otherwise, they will be subject to charges for war crimes.”

Hostilities between the AA and Myanmar forces intensified in early January following attacks by Arakan fighters on police outposts in northern Rakhine state, prompting more than 100 battles between the two sides in the following months. The civilian death toll from the conflict is 54, with some 100 wounded.

Reported by Kyaw Lwin Oo and Htet Arkar for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Richard Finney.