By MRATT KYAW THU | FRONTIER
YANGON — At least eight people have been killed in Rakhine State after a heavy police crackdown on Rakhine protestors in the ancient town of Mrauk U on Tuesday night.
The incident occurred after thousands of people took to the streets to protest the government’s decision to cancel an event planned to commemorate the 233rd anniversary of the fall of the Rakhine kingdom, which had its capital city at Mrauk U. The protestors destroyed property, including a motorbike and plastic chairs, witnesses said.
Daw Khin Than, chairperson of Mrauk U Heritage Trust, told Frontier the decision to cancel the event was broadcast over loudspeaker at about 5pm.
Protestors then surrounded the General Administration Department office at Htamaraz Ward, about four kilometres from downtown Mrauk U, after which the police fired into the crowd, witnesses said.
U Khine Moe, a joint secretary of the Arakan National Party, said he saw seven dead bodies in a morgue at Mrauk U hospital, and had been told of another body being transferred to the hospital in Sittwe, the state capital.
Witnesses said they believed that some people were still unaccounted for.
Khin Moe said several police trucks had been dispatched to Mrauk U from Sittwe, with many officers stationed at the town’s hospitals, where local residents and family members of the deceased had gathered late on Wednesday, demanding that the bodies be released.
Tuesday’s event was cancelled hours after prominent Rakhine writer Wai Hun Aung was arrested in Sittwe on Tuesday afternoon. Authorities told Frontier he was being charged under section 17.1 of the Unlawful Association Act, for a speech held on Monday at Rathedaung, northern Rakhine State, alongside former ANP chairman Dr Aye Maung, which was highly critical of the government.
Aye Maung was due to speak at the event in Mrauk U on Tuesday, but was prevented from entering the town shortly after Wai Hun Aung’s arrest and ordered to return to Sittwe. Rumours quickly spread on social media that Aye Maung had also been arrested.
U Bo Bo Min Theik, administrator for Mrauk U Township, could not be reached for comment.