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

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, the community heads said Monday.

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

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,” a village administrator said. “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.”

A Myanmar soldier reportedly arrested Nyan Thein at his home on Dec. 13 while he was meeting with a Buddhist monk and 20-some villagers congregated near a bonfire in his compound, according to residents.

The villagers told RFA’s Myanmar Service in an earlier report that soldiers hit Nyan Thein on his head with a rifle butt, then shot and killed him.

A 39-year-old mother from the village was also shot and killed in the same incident.

“Military troops entered the village, and a soldier fired a shot into the air in front of the village head’s home,” said a second administrator who requested anonymity for fear of his safety.

Three other soldiers followed and shouted at the residents sitting by the bonfire not to run away or else they would shoot and kill them, he said. The soldiers then ordered them to place their cellphones on the ground.

“Then they started shooting,” he said.

The first village head, who also did not want to provide his name, said, “I heard the military enter the village and started beating Nyan Thein as soon as they found him inside his home.”

A third village leader who declined to give his name out of fear for his safety echoed the sentiment.

“Our lives are at risk,” he said. “We don’t know when we will be murdered like Nyan Thein.”

‘Terrorizing the population’

Dozens of civilians, including village administrators, have died in an escalated conflict between Myanmar forces and the rebel Arakan Army (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 for killings.

RFA could not reach President’s Office spokesman Zaw Htay for comment on the 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 it.

“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.”

A Dec. 13 announcement by the military said it was responding to the shooting of Nyan Thein and another village head, Kyaw Aye Maung.

Some residents who managed to escape arrest that night said earlier that Kyaw Aye Maung was killed as Myanmar soldiers took residents away from the village.

So far, the military has arrested seven villagers it says are connected to the incident.

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) government.

Envoy meets with ethnic armies

Meanwhile, a Chinese special envoy has pressed leaders of two rebel 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 Kachin and Rakhine 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 Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and the AA 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 forces.

China has been increasingly concerned about armed conflicts in northern and western 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 Myanmar troops 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 he 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,” Khine Thukha said. “Especially, both the government and the military should give up the belief that they can win in any way by 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.

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