Amid a large-scale operation to interrogate individuals in Arakan State who are suspected of having links to the ethnic rebel Arakan Army, 20 people have so far been arrested and will face prosecution, according to the Kyauktaw Township Police Station.
The detainees will be charged under Burma’s Unlawful Association Law and, upon completion of their interrogations, will stand trial at the local district court within 15 days, said Police Maj. Khin Maung, head of the Kyauktaw Township Police Station.
“They are not locals, but are instead insurgents and their staunch supporters,” said Khin Maung.
Authorities started rounding up suspects after the Burma Army clashed several times with Arakan Army forces in a number of Arakan State townships beginning in late March. The fighting has forced hundreds of locals from their homes, volunteers who are helping the displaced told The Irrawaddy.
Khaing Pyi Soe, vice chairman of the Arakan National Party, said authorities’ handling of the situation had spawned a climate of fear in the state.
“Now, locals are really scared,” he said, adding that he was prepared to offer legal assistance to those being charged with unlawful association.
The junta-era Unlawful Association Law was used under the previous military regime to jail hundreds if not thousands of people accused of links to Burma’s numerous ethnic armed rebel groups, or other organizations designated as illegal. Under President Thein Sein’s administration, the law had until recently been effectively allowed to lapse as Naypyidaw embarked on an ambitious set of peace negotiations with more than a dozen armed rebel groups.
In addition to those accused of ties to the Arakan Army, the military on Sunday said any journalist who reported on statements made by the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), which the government also labels an unlawful association, would face prosecution “under existing law.”
The ethnic Kokang rebels of the MNDAA have been engaged in hostilities with government troops since Feb. 9 in northeastern Shan State.
Representatives from both the MNDAA and the Arakan Army are currently in Panghsang, Wa Special Region, where they are attending a meeting of ethnic armed groups that was convened on Friday to discuss a proposed nationwide ceasefire with the government. Both illegal groups were invited by the United Wa State Army (UWSA), against the government’s wishes.