By LUN MIN MANG | FRONTIER
YANGON — The wife of an upper house MP taken hostage yesterday by the Arakan Army has called for his release, saying she’s seriously concerned about his safety.
An Indian national – one of five Indians working on an infrastructure project in Chin State who was detained together with the lawmaker – also reportedly died while being detained by the AA.
U Hawi Tin (National League for Democracy, Paletwa) was detained on November 3 with nine others while they were travelling on boats from Paletwa in Chin State to Kyauktaw Township in Rakhine State. The other passengers were released early today.
The lawmaker was on his way to attend a regular parliamentary session in Nay Pyi Taw, his wife Daw Khin Ei Sint told Frontier by phone today.
“I am worried about my husband’s safety. I want him to be released as soon as possible,” she said.
There is no land transportation route between Paletwa and Kyauktaw, so motorboats are used to make the two-hour journey between the towns.
Khin Ei Sint said her husband left home at around 8am and she learned in the afternoon that the boat did not arrive in Kyauktaw. Later that day, she was informed that 10 people including her husband had been detained somewhere between Paletwa and Kyauktaw.
The MP’s continued detention was for the purpose of “further interrogation”, AA spokesperson U Khaing Thu Kha was quoted by the India-based Khonumthung news agency as saying.
He alleged that the MP, along with an ethnic Khumi youth group, had been collecting information about the AA and passing it to the Tatmadaw.
U Soe Htet, the Chin State minister for municipal affairs, electricity and industry and a member of the ruling NLD, said the accusations were unfounded and that the Union government is attempting to secure Hawi Tin’s release.
Formed in 2009 in Laiza, a remote area of Kachin State controlled by the Kachin Independence Organisation, the AA has been engaged in fierce fighting with the Tatmadaw in Rakhine and southern Chin states since late 2018.
In a Myanmar-language statement released today the group said that it stopped two speedboats and took the passengers hostage in response to Tatmadaw military pressure.
The detainees included five Indian citizens and five local residents, including the lawmaker. One of the Indian citizens died from a heart attack after he was detained, the group said in its statement.
The statement identified the deceased as Mr Vindo Gopal, an employee of Indian company C&C Constructions, which is building a road connecting a river port at Paletwa to Zorinpui in India’s Mizoram State. He died after suffering shortness of breath, the AA said.
Eight of the detainees were released early this morning, arriving in Kyauktaw at around 8am, but Hawi Tin is still being held by the ethnic armed group.
Soe Htet said the Indian citizens would return home via Yangon.
An NLD source familiar with the incident told Frontier that the National Reconciliation and Peace Centre led by State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has also contacted the Northern Alliance to seek the lawmaker’s release.
The alliance is a military coalition of three ethnic armed groups – the Arakan Army, Ta’ang National Liberation Army and Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army – that have not signed the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement, and are fighting the Tatmadaw in Shan and Rakhine states.
The NRPC could not be reached for comment. Soe Htet said he was not sure whether the NRPC had contacted the ethnic armed groups.
In its statement today the AA said that anyone planning to travel in the townships where it is fighting the Tatmadaw in southern Chin and Rakhine states should inform the group before making a trip. It did not provide contact details.
The group said the security measures were necessary because the Tatmadaw had infiltrated and sent reinforcements to the frontlines of the conflict.
Earlier this month, the AA stopped a boat travelling between the Rakhine State capital Sittwe and Buthidaung Township in northern Rakhine, taking around 50 passengers hostage, including 14 military personnel. Fifteen of the hostages have since been rescued but many more are thought to have been killed.
The death of an Indian citizen is a blow to the already-delayed Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport Project, a signature Indian investment in Myanmar which aims to connect landlocked Mizoram in northeast India to the Rakhine State capital Sittwe on the Bay of Bengal.
Work on the US$484 million Paletwa-Zorinpui road, a 109-kilometre (68-mile) highway that forms part of the Kaladan project, was interrupted in March after the AA detained 15 construction workers from Su Htoo San Company.
Companies involved in the construction of the road have since asked the Myanmar government to provide security for those working on the project.
U Soe Htet said that the governments of India and Myanmar should work together to ensure the security of the project and those building it.