Myanmar’s Arakan Army denies killing five Rohingya civilians

The Arakan Army has denied accusations that its forces killed five Rohingya civilians in Rakhine State’s Maungdaw Township, blaming the killings on “criminal gangs”, The Irrawaddy reports.

Rohingya rights activist Ro Nay San Lwin said that according to villagers, five Rohingya men from Tha Yet Oak Village in Maungdaw were arrested on the evening of April 17 by the AA. No news was heard about them until their bodies were found on Monday near a stream in the village, he said.

The AA reportedly clashed with the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) near the village on April 16 and with junta troops on April 23, prompting most of the villagers to flee, he added.

He called for justice for the slain men, saying they were arrested for “no reason” and killed by the AA.

Citing villagers’ accounts, the activist identified the men as Abdul Amin, 52, Mohammed Soyed, 40, Abul Kalam, 48, Islam, 55, and Noor Malhakim, 25.

Radio Free Asia quoted a local resident as saying that the AA arrested the five and that their bodies were found later.

Responding to the reports, AA spokesman Khaing Thukha said on Wednesday that the group was not involved in the incident and no arrests had been made as claimed.

In a statement, he said “The area is full of complexity due to the activities of ARSA, ARA [the Arakan Rohingya Army] and the RSO [the Rohingya Solidarity Organization] in addition to many other armed drug-trafficking groups,” adding that “this could only be the result of reciprocal arrests and killings among these criminal gangs”.

He said similar reciprocal killings had occurred in Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh. Another possibility was that the above groups wanted to sow misunderstanding and mistrust between the groups and the local population, he said.

The AA even generously took care of detainees and prisoners of war arrested during armed clashes in line with international laws and regulations, he said.

“We have never carried out such lawless executions,” he claimed in the statement.

The statement came a day after the AA rejected a warning by UN Human Rights Commissioner Volker Türk of a particular risk posed to Rohingya due to intensified fighting in Rakhine State between the junta and the AA, alongside tensions being fueled between the Rohingya and ethnic Rakhine communities. Türk added there was a risk that past atrocities would be repeated.

The AA said Türk’s report included “factual errors and biased accusations”.

It said the commissioner ignored non-Muslim groups’ suffering by stressing the plight of the Muslim community alone. It denounced the commissioner for failing to mention that civilians are suffering because of the actions of ARSA, ARA and RSO, which “have re-emerged thanks to the junta authorities instigating problems”.

It said ARSA, ARA, RSO and other armed “drug-trafficking” groups have been arresting and killing innocent civilians, resulting in a serious threat to stability in Buthidaung and Maungdaw townships in northern Rakhine.

The AA said it was established to protect all the people in Rakhine, including Muslims.

“We have never intentionally killed any Muslim civilians in the past and we will never do so in the future. We will protect all [Rakhine State] citizens in the most effective way we can,” the statement reads.

Reacting to the AA’s comments, Ro Nay San Lwin said armed groups never admit to killings of civilians, which are crimes and violations of international law.

“I support revolution and the AA’s fight for autonomy. But I condemn killings and crimes committed by any armed group,” he said.

He said AA leaders need to accept that the reality on the ground does not reflect their claims of social harmony and cohesion among Rakhine State’s various ethnic groups and religions.

Northern Rakhine townships like Maungdaw and Buthidaung have majority-Rohingya populations. In 2017, more than 700,000 Rohingya fled to neighboring Bangladesh after the military responded to attacks by Rohingya militants with a violent crackdown on civilians.

Amid heavy losses to the AA in Rakhine State including control of several townships and bases, the junta has orchestrated Rohingya protests against the AA in Buthidaung, Maungdaw and Sittwe in an apparent attempt to sow ethnic division.

The junta was also recently accused of burning down Buthidaung town in Rakhine State using forced Rohingya recruits in an apparent attempt to incite ethnic hatred.

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