Arakan Army searches Western Myanmar for Muslim ‘criminal gangs’

The ethnic Rakhine armed group, the Arakan Army (AA), has been searching Muslim villages near the Bangladesh border in Rakhine State, searching for Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) alleged criminals, The Irrawaddy reports.

Large numbers of AA troops have been searching at least nine Muslim villages in northern Buthidaung Township since last week, said residents.

AA spokesman Khaing Thukha told The Irrawaddy: “We are working to arrest criminal gangs kidnapping, killing and robbing residents in Buthidaung. Our Arakan People’s Authority security forces have joined hands with residents and are blocking and searching villages where the criminal gangs are based.”

Residents claim ARSA is carrying out kidnappings, robberies and murders of Muslim villagers in Maungdaw and Buthidaung townships. The group has been targeting Muslim business owners and AA supporters, said Buthidaung villagers.

A community representative in Buthidaung, who asked for anonymity, told The Irrawaddy: “The AA has searched around nine villages. We don’t know how many people the AA has arrested. There are informants for the AA, ARSA and Myanmar’s military in Muslim villages. We have trust issues among villagers and everyone lives in fear.”

The AA is questioning six Muslims from three Buthidaung villages over alleged ties to criminal gangs, said residents. The Irrawaddy could not independently verify the reports.

A Muslim villager from Buthidaung, who did not want to be named, said: “We welcome the AA troops searching and arresting ARSA members and murderers. But they must only arrest the real criminals and not seek our support through fear.”

Khaing Thukha said the AA is monitoring criminal gangs in Maungdaw and Buthidaung on the Bangladesh border. “Innocent villagers need not worry,” said the AA spokesman.

Since a crackdown began in Bangladesh over refugee camp crime, ARSA members have been appearing in Maungdaw.

Maungdaw and Buthidaung business owners fear being kidnapped for ransom, said a Muslim from Buthidaung.

ARSA came into the spotlight after alleged attacks on border outposts in 2016 and 2017 in Maungdaw. The group’s estimated 300 fighters are active in Buthidaung and Maungdaw in Rakhine State and Cox’s Bazar in eastern Bangladesh.

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