Rakhine political leader Dr Aye Maung arrested in Sittwe after Mrauk U violence

By NYAN HLAING LYNN | FRONTIER

NAY PYI TAW — State Counsellor’s Office spokesman U Zaw Htay has confirmed the Thursday arrest of Rakhine political leader Dr Aye Maung at his home in Sittwe. 

Pyithu Hluttaw speaker U Win Myint had the previous day approved a police request for the arrest of the Ann Township MP and former Arakan National Party leader, followingclashes between police and Rakhine protestors in Mrauk U that claimed at least nine lives on Tuesday.

Speaking to Frontier on Thursday, Zaw Htay confirmed Aye Maung’s arrest and said he had been “handed over to authorities to file a lawsuit.”

Around 150 supporters of Aye Maung had gathered outside Sittwe’s No. 1 Police Station, where he is being detained, on Thursday afternoon.

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According to a statement released late Wednesday night by the Ministry of Information, authorities in Rathedaung Township have filed charges against Aye Maung under Section 17(1) of the Unlawful Associations Act, as well of Sections 121 and 505 of the Penal Code — clauses relating to “high treason” and incitement.

Aye Maung had given a speech in the township on Tuesday to mark the anniversary of the fall of the Mrauk U Kingdom in 1784, following the invasion of Burmese forces under the Konbaung Dynasty.

According to a Wednesday evening bulletin by the state broadcaster Myanmar Radio, Aye Maung had told a crowd that Myanmar’s Bamar majority regarded Rakhine people as slaves and did not grant them equal rights. He is alleged to have made a call for greater sovereignty for the Rakhine community and discussed the need for armed struggle to this end, an apparent reference to the Arakan Army insurgent group.

Aye Maung could not be reached for comment by Frontier on Wednesday. Senior police officers declined to comment when contacted.

News of the charges against the Rakhine leader came the day after bloody clashes between police and protestors in Mrauk U on Tuesday.

After representatives of the town’s General Administration Department announced authorities would not permit a planned public ceremony for the 1784 anniversary, thousands of protestors marched to the GAD office for a demonstration that soon became unruly.

Tensions had risen after the crowd learned of the arrest of Wai Hin Aung, a young Rakhine writer and civil society leader who had been slated to speak at the gathering earlier that day. He is now facing the same charges as those filed against Aye Maung, who had been barred from entering Mrauk U Tuesday and instead delivered his planned speech in Rathedaung.

In addition to the nine confirmed dead by the Mrauk U hospital, around 20 protestors are believed to have suffered serious injuries.

Numerous police have been deployed from elsewhere in the state to guard the local hospital and other public buildings.

The United Nations in Myanmar condemned the violence on Wednesday and called for a full investigation of the police response.

“The United Nations in Myanmar is following with concern the reports of violent clashes between the police and protesters in Mrauk U,” said UN Resident Coordinator spokesman Mr Stanislav Saling. “We deplore the loss of life and injuries that have been reported … We urge authorities to investigate any disproportionate use of force or other illegal actions that may have occurred in relation to this incident.”

Elected to the Amyotha Hluttaw in the 2010 elections, Aye Maung sought the chief ministry of Rakhine State in 2015, an ambition thwarted by his losing bid for a state assembly seat in that year’s general election.

He returned to the Nay Pyi Taw parliament last year, following a by-election to replace Union Immigration Minister U Thein Swe in Ann Township.

Aye Maung quit the ANP late last year, in the wake of deep divisions within the party that had lay dormant following the party’s strong electoral showing in 2015.

Additional reporting by Sean Gleeson in Yangon. 

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