Myanmar’s junta has dropped terrorism charges against 10 ethnic Rakhines, including relatives of the top commander of the rebel Arakan Army, setting them free after nearly two years in custody awaiting trial, a lawyer representing them told RFA.
The move to free the detainees, including siblings of Arakan Army (AA) Commander-in-Chief Maj. Gen. Tun Myat Naing, follows the removal of the ethnic fighting force in western Myanmar from a state terror designation list on March. 11.
A conflict that erupted in late 2018 between Myanmar’s military and the AA killed 300 civilians, injured more than 700 others, and, at its peak, displaced roughly 230,000 people to makeshift refugee camps. A ceasefire agreed between the AA and military for the November 2020 elections remains intact.
Eight of the Rakhine activists -- including Aung Myat Kyaw, a brother of AA chief Tun Myat Naing -- were arrested by Singapore police in July 2019 and deported to Myanmar and charged under the Anti-Terrorism Law. Separately, Tun Myat Naing's sister and brother-in-law were arrested at Yangon International Airport in October 2019 and charged under the same law.
“They had been on trial for almost two years and were acquitted by the Yangon Western District Court today. All 10 were released in good health,” Aung Kyaw Sein, a lawyer representing the group, told RFA’s Myanmar Service Tuesday.
Others suspected of links with AA rebels and charged under anti-terrorism laws in Rakhine State were later dropped and released, the attorney said without elaborating.
The junta spokesman was not available for comment.
Later on Tuesday they received a raucous welcome in the Rakhine State capital Sittwe from dozens of supporters, local news outlet Western News showed in a livestream video of a gesture by the AA that the military had not previously tolerated.
On top of enduring widespread atrocities committed by government troops, the citizens in the northern half of Rakhine were disenfranchised in the November 2020 elections after Myanmar election authorities cancelled voting due to security concerns, and then ruled out a make-up vote.
Before the AA-national military hostilities flared up, northern Rakhine erupted in brutal communal violence pitting Rakhines against Rohingya, culminating in a scorched-earth military crackdown that killed thousands of the ethnic Muslims and drove more than 740,000 others into neighboring Bangladesh in 2017.
Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Kyaw Ming Htun. Written in English by Paul Eckert.
This content originally appeared on Radio Free Asia and was authored by Radio Free Asia.