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September 2023

Episode: KPN 30-09-2023

Kaladan Radio September 30, 2023 1166 2

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AA detains villagers in northern Rakhine State for alleged criminal affiliations

Amid sweeping searches of predominantly Rohingya villages in northern Rakhine State last week, the Arakan Army (AA) reportedly arrested several residents it suspected of being linked to the controversial Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA).

Some 100 members of the AA, a Rakhine ethnic armed organisation, travelled to several locations in southern Buthidaung Township, claiming to be looking for individuals from the Rohingya minority who it alleged were affiliated with ARSA, according to a resident of one such village, U Hla Hpay.

The man said that on September 21 the AA arrested four men from his community and another individual who was visiting from nearby Shaab Bazar, as well as three others from the village of Wa Ra Kyun.

The detainees from U Hla Hpay were identified as Habul Zaman, Hamid Ullah, Abdul Monem, and Musa Ali; and the Shaab Bazar resident was named as Mohamad Huson. The identities of the three other detainees were not known at the time of reporting.

“They said they were looking for “bad people. I’m just worried about innocent civilians,” the man from U Hla Hpay said.

Relatively little is known about ARSA, which the military accused of carrying out a series of attacks on police outposts in Rakhine State in August 2017; the Myanmar army responded by launching a scorched earth campaign that forced hundreds of thousands of Rohingya civilians to flee to neighbouring Bangladesh. Mass killings and rape committed by the military were documented during the offensive, and the state is on trial for genocide in the International Court of Justice in the Hague.

Another source from the village of Keya Zinga Para, around 3 km southeast of U Hla Hpay, confirmed that AA troops had questioned residents about connections with ARSA.

Those detained have not yet been released, locals said.

The Arakan Express News, a Rohingya news outlet, reported that around 500 AA members conducted searches in nine villages from September 19-22. The outlet also reported that the AA had made 10 arrests, including five in U Hla Hpay.

Reports of alleged ARSA activities in Buthidaung and Maungdaw townships resurfaced recently, with local news outlets reporting that the group was behind abuses including abductions.

AA spokesperson Khaing Thukha told Myanmar Now that his organisation was looking for “criminal gangs.”

“The Arakan people are cooperating with the security forces of the people’s government [AA] in the search for criminal gangs that are kidnapping, murdering and robbing locals in Buthidaung,” Khaing Thukha said.

“Civilians who have no connection with those criminal gangs have nothing to worry about,” he added.

According to locals, clashes took place between the AA and ARSA in Buthidaung Township on July 18 and 19.

The AA fought fiercely with military forces between late December 2019 and early November 2020. Fighting resumed in 2022 but paused again when the organisation agreed to a temporary truce with junta forces in November 2022. Tensions between the two sides remain high.

The AA, rather than the military council in Naypyitaw, currently exercises control over many areas of Rakhine State, including the villages where the recent searches occurred.

As a part of broader effort to improve interethnic relations, the AA began recruiting some Rohingya people to its political wing, the United League of Arakan, after attaining greater influence in the state in late 2019. The AA also punished two of its own members with caning and 20 years’ imprisonment for the rape of a Rohingya woman in Buthidaung Township in 2022.

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