A political party leader in Myanmar’s Rakhine state abducted by the Arakan Army nearly two weeks ago for organizing a public rally in support of State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi was killed in a mortar attack Wednesday, a spokesman for the rebel ethnic force said.
The Arakan Army (AA) claims that Ye Thein, chairman of the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) party in Buthidaung township, died in an armed assault by the Myanmar military, AA spokesman Khine Thukha told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
Hostilities between the predominantly Buddhist Rakhine AA and Myanmar forces escalated about a year ago as the Arakan force fights for greater autonomy in the state.
Earlier this month, the AA said it detained Ye Thein to interrogate him when he was organizing the rally as Aung San Suu Kyi prepared to defend the country over genocide charges at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) at The Hague in the Netherlands.
“He was killed in the shelling blast by the Burmese military,” Khine Thukha said Thursday, adding that the mortar that shattered Ye Thein’s body was fired by the Myanmar military's Buthidaung-based 15th Light Infantry Battalion which had entered an AA camp about three miles east of Oaktaung village.
Mortar shell explosions also killed and injured others held by the AA, the ethnic army said in a statement issued Wednesday.
NLD spokesman Monywa Aung Shin said that the AA is the party “most responsible for the death of Ye Thein” and that the ethnic organization has said it is preparing to issue a statement denouncing his killing.
The AA said intense battles took place Wednesday in northern Rakhine’s Buthidaung and Myebon townships and in Paletwa township in neighboring Chin state during which Myanmar soldiers fired heavy artillery and mortar shells.
Myanmar forces deployed two helicopters during the clashes in Myebon and used them to transport the bodies of officers killed in a battle in Paletwa’s Nanbu village, though RFA could not independently confirm the account.
Contradicting the AA’s version of events, Myanmar military spokesman Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun told RFA that there were no armed conflicts in Buthidaung.
“There were no armed clashes on either Dec. 24 or Dec. 25 in Buthidaung,” he said.
The AA also said it has detained NLD member Whay Tin, a Chin state lawmaker, and three immigration officials who traveled in Buthidaung on Tuesday.
So far, the Myanmar military has rejected offers by the AA for a prisoner exchange.
A statement issued by the AA on Nov. 12 said Arakan soldiers had 17 prisoners of war in their custody, including nine police officers, six Myanmar troops, a prison department employee, and a military engineer.
The AA is one of several ethnic armed groups supporting the case against Myanmar at the ICJ over genocide and war crimes targeting Rohingya Muslims in the same areas of northern Rakhine state where recent fighting has occurred.
A violent military-led crackdown targeting the Rohingyas in 2017 left thousands dead and drove more than 740,000 across the border and into Bangladesh.
The predominantly Muslim nation of Gambia has filed a lawsuit against Myanmar at the ICJ, accusing the country of breaching the 1948 Genocide Convention with its atrocities against the Rohingya.
At a hearing on Dec. 10-12, Gambia asked the ICJ for emergency measures to prevent further violence against the Rohingya, pending a final ruling on genocide charges which is expected to take years.
Reported by Thant Zin Oo for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.