An international NGO worker shot Sunday by the Myanmar military in Mrauk-U town of western Myanmar’s volatile Rakhine state is in critical condition and has been charged with a terrorism-related offense, members of his family said.
Ye Lin Naing, a 25-year-old employee of the global humanitarian and children’s rights organization Plan International, was shot at about 7 a.m. as he rode a motorbike through the town’s Kyauk Yitkay ward, where a government military regiment is stationed for security purposes, the relatives said.
He sustained a gunshot wound on the left side of his chest and was taken to Sittwe General Hospital for urgent care on Monday, because the bullet had damaged his lung and heart blood vessels, they said.
“A soldier told us he was very lucky,” Ye Lin Naing’s elder sister, Yi Yi Myint, told reporters in Sittwe.
“We asked why they shot him,” she said. “He said the reason was he didn’t stop as he was asked to do. The injury is critical.”
Soldiers and police first took Ye Lin Naing to Mrauk-U Hospital, but a doctor there said he needed urgent care and sent him to Sittwe General Hospital, she said.
A witness to the shooting who declined to give his name out of fear for his safety said Ye Lin Naing was riding his motorbike at high speed, so he could not apply the brakes in time to immediately stop to obey the soldiers' order.
“He slowed down after putting on the brakes, and as he tried to turn back, they shot him,” the eyewitness said.
Colonel Win Zaw Oo, spokesman for the military’s Western Command responsible for Rakhine state, told RFA’s Myanmar Service that the man was hit by a warning shot that was fired because he failed to stop as he was ordered to do.
He said items found on Ye Lin Naing and his motorbike during a search raised soldiers’ suspicions.
“They fired a warning shot and hit the boy,” he said. “After he was injured, we searched him. We found a grenade and a laptop computer on the boy. We are now checking on the laptop.
“We will determine if he has any connections to the AA,” he said. “We found a grenade in his motorcycle toolbox, so we charged him under the Counter-Terrorism Law because of this evidence.”
Before he was transferred to Sittwe, police and a township judge were summoned to the hospital to formally charge Ye Lin Naing under the law, his family said.
“The judge said he was being charged under the Counter-Terrorism Law,” said Thar Chen Aung, father of Ye Lin Aung. “The judge gave him 12 days to be remanded. They sent six policemen to accompany him as he was transferred to Sittwe. I don’t know which sections [of the law] he has been charged with violating.”
Ye Lin Naing’s family members rejected the claim that the troops found a grenade in his toolbox.
Yi Yi Myint said her brother only carried with him a mobile phone, a laptop computer, a bank card, and 400,000 kyats (U.S. $253) in cash.
‘Not a battlefield’
Ye Lin Naing, who is from Shwetamar village in Rakhine’s Minbya township, has worked for Plan International for the past three years, his relatives said.
The incident is the first time this year that an international NGO worker has been shot during the conflict between the Myanmar military and the Arakan Army (AA), a Rakhine Buddhist military group fighting for greater autonomy in Rakhine state.
AA spokesman Khine Thukha said it was “very tragic” that a victim of what he called a terrorist act had been charged under the Counter-Terrorism Law.
“This shows how the rule of law is working against the people and how the judicial system is deteriorating,” he said.
“Mrauk-U town is not a battlefield,” he said. “Now, they [Myanmar soldiers] consider every civilian they encounter as an enemy. This is the reason nobody in the world believes what the Myanmar authorities have said.”
RFA contacted Plan International’s regional head office in Yangon, but was told that officials there could not comment on the incident.
The military column that shot Ye Lin Naing also conducted late-night surprise searches of two monasteries in Mrauk-U township for suspected ties to the AA, the monasteries' abbots told RFA.
For two hours, soldiers searched all the rooms and closets in the buildings but later apologized for the search after they found no evidence, they said.
Colonel Win Zaw Oo said the soldiers were just doing their job after they had received tips from detainees arrested for having ties to the AA.
Driver appears in court
In a related development, the driver of a vehicle transporting 10 young ethnic Rakhine men detained on June 27 in Rakhine’s Ponnagyun township for suspected links to AA was remanded at the township court on Monday, the father of one of the other suspects told RFA.
Maung Kyaw Than, father of two detainees from Pyarbinyin village who was waiting at the courthouse to see if his sons would appear, said the driver was the only one who was brought to court and remanded.
“I heard that my sons would be remanded at the Ponnagyun courthouse today,” he said. “The driver arrived here about two hours ago, but the detainees are not here.”
Among the detainees, whose location is unknown, are a 16-year-old eleventh-grader and a 12-year-old juvenile.
An announcement by the Myanmar military on Sunday said authorities are investigating an automobile with 10 young men and has determined them to be possible AA recruits.
The detainees have been charged under the Counter-Terrorism Law and are being questioned in Ponnagyun township police station, the announcement said.
“The police have filed charges, and we have made official announcements,” Myanmar military spokesman Colonel Win Zaw Oo said. “They are now interrogating them, and depending on their findings, they will act on them.”
Police commander Maung Maung Soe from the Rakhine State Police confirmed that officers are investigating the group of young people, most of whom are about 15 or 16 years old.
“What makes it worse is that they were found in an unregistered vehicle,” he said. “There is a possibility that the young men were being trafficked. We are also investigating other possibilities.”
Maung Kyaw Than said he was concerned about the whereabouts and safety of his two sons.
“I am wondering if my kids are getting food and are in good health,” he said. “Even if I am not allowed to visit them, they should be giving information on where they are.”
Reported by Kyaw Lwin Oo for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.