Rakhine Village Chiefs Tell Myanmar Leader They’ll Quit Unless Colleague’s Death is Investigated

UPDATED at 11:38 A.M. ET on 2020-01-14

Dozens of village administrators in western Myanmar’s war-torn Rakhine state have threatened to resign if Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi does not order an investigation into the death of one of their colleagues killed by government troops in December, the community heads said Monday.

The 68 village chiefs from Minbya township sent a written appeal to the state counselor to look into the death of Nyan Thein, head of Satetaya village in Minbya township, and to seek justice for him. They also sent copies to military commander-in-chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing and deputy parliamentary speaker Aye Thar Aung.

The village heads said they sent their appeal directly to Aung San Suu Kyi because they trust her.

“With regard to the murder of village head Nyan Thein, we believe that Mother Suu can resolve this problem,” said a village administrator who declined to be named out of fear for his safety. “We trust her.”

“If she cannot bring justice to this case, all 68 village heads will be at the risk of succumbing to the same fate,” he added. “We are trapped between two armed forces, so we have agreed to resign if things do not go well.”

Nyan Thein along with Kyaw Aye Maung, an official from neighboring Kyaukmaw village, and a 39-year-old female civilian were killed by gunfire from Myanmar soldiers on Dec. 11, witnesses and relatives of the deceased told RFA’s Myanmar Service late that month.

At the time of the incident, government forces claimed that the two men were already dead from handgun wounds when they arrived on scene in Satetaya village, where Kyaw Aye Maung was visiting.

An army brigade on security patrol near the township’s Yarmaung Bridge arrived near Satetaya village the same day, according to a statement issued by the office of military commander-in-chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing on Dec. 13.

Soldiers from the rebel Arakan Army (AA) fired at them with light artillery from a house in the village, but they ran away to an area south of Satetaya village when Myanmar troops returned fire, the military’s account said.

As government soldiers inspected the house from where the AA fired shots, they found Nyan Thein and Kyaw Aye Maung, dead of gunshot wounds, the announcement said, adding that Myanmar troops detained seven people near the site who were behaving strangely, the statement said.

But residents said a Myanmar soldier reportedly arrested Nyan Thein at his home while he was meeting with a Buddhist monk to discuss recent shelling from the armed conflict, while more than 20 villagers chatted by a bonfire at the compound.

Nyan Thein’s relatives and the witnesses said the village administrator died of injuries after being beaten with a gunstock, while Kyaw Aye Maung was later shot and died after Myanmar soldiers detained him along with nine other villagers and took them away.

The woman from the village was also shot and killed in the same incident.

‘Terrorizing the population’

Dozens of civilians, including village administrators, have died in an escalated conflict between Myanmar forces and the AA, which is fighting for greater autonomy in northern Rakhine state.

Both sides have detained and interrogated villagers who they believe may be assisting the enemy, and have blamed the other side for any killings.
RFA could not reach President’s Office spokesman Zaw Htay for comment on the village administrators’ appeal letter.

AA spokesman Khine Thukha pointed to repeated incidents where village heads and civilians were killed by Myanmar soldiers in the state and said that Aung San Suu Kyi should do something to stop them.

“The Myanmar military has been terrorizing the civilian population,” he said. “A Nobel Peace Prize laureate like Daw [honorific] Aung San Suu Kyi and her government should be able to prevent that.”

“We want to send a clear message that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and her government are responsible for all the atrocities and war crimes committed by the Myanmar military.”

Myanmar military spokesman Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun said that the army conducts investigations of killings whenever it receives an appeal letter.
“I don’t know if we have received that letter or not,” he said. “We have made announcements with regard to these incidents.”

“These village heads should be more honest,” he added. “What I mean is they need to tell the truth. As for us, we conduct investigations upon the receipt of appeal letters.”

Village administrators are government employees assigned to their posts by the General Administration Department, the country’s administrative backbone that acts as the civil service for Myanmar’s 14 state and regional governments and provides the administration for its districts and townships.

The department was under the Ministry of Home Affairs until December 2018, but then was transferred to the Ministry of the Office of the Union Government under the administration of the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) administration.

Envoy meets with ethnic armies

Meanwhile, a Chinese special envoy has pressed leaders of the AA and another ethnic armies in Myanmar to reduce their offensives and engage in peace talks with government forces, as Beijing continues to try to influence the direction of armed conflict in war-torn Rakhine and Kachin states ahead of a visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Sun Guoxiang, special envoy for Asian affairs from China’s foreign ministry, met on Jan. 10 with the commanders of the AA and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) at KIA headquarters in the town of Laiza in northern Myanmar’s Kachin state to try to persuade the armies to take measures to end instability in the border regions.

Both ethnic armies are members of the Northern Alliance of four rebel militaries that have joined forces to launch coordinated attacks against government soldiers.

China has been increasingly concerned about armed conflicts in western and northern Myanmar disrupting various infrastructure projects in the Southeast Asia nation under Xi’s massive Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and wants to ensure they are not jeopardized.

Sun has expressed Beijing’s official displeasure with the fighting and encouraged ethnic armies fighting in border areas to meet with peace negotiators and agree to bilateral cease-fires with the government military. His latest effort comes before Xi’s state visit to Myanmar on Jan. 17-18.

“When our leaders met with Sun Guoxiang in Laiza, he said that the Chinese government is assisting the Myanmar government with the peace talks,” AA spokesman Khine Thukha told RFA’s Myanmar Service. “So, he has encouraged all parties to resolve the issue at the negotiation table in a peaceful way.”

But Khine Thukha stressed that the ruling civilian government and the national military need to do more on their end to stop the fighting and initiate the next moves in the country’s faltering peace process to ends decades of civil wars and forge a democratic federal union.

“In order to keep holding the peace talks, the Myanmar government and the military should change their hostile attitudes,” he Thukha said. “Especially, both the government and the military should give up the belief that they can win by any means with the excessive use of force. They should find a common ground by settling differences in a peaceful manner.”

RFA could not reach Myanmar military spokesman Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun or Colonel Win Zaw Oo, spokesman for the Myanmar’s military’s Western Command, for comment.

Reported by Moe Myint, Phyu Phyu Khine, and Nayrein Kyaw for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.