The Arakan Army (AA), an insurgent group that has come under fire for its alleged mistreatment of civilians, has released dozens of Chin villagers after holding them in captivity near the Bangladesh border for nearly six months.
In a statement, the group said that the 39 villagers from King-Talin in southern Chin State’s Paletwa Township had demanded to be released because they were finding it too difficult to live in the border area during the rainy season.
According to the statement, the AA agreed to free the villagers and transport them to the village of Ohn-thi-wa, where they arrived at around 9am on Wednesday.
The statement, which was addressed to the families of the captives and “the international community,” added that the villagers were “no longer under the care of AA forces.”
The villagers were first abducted on February 2, when AA forces entered King-Talin and ordered 52 people to march back with them to their camp near the Bangladesh border. Twelve of the captives escaped on June 26, and one died while in AA custody.
The escaped villagers said they had been taken to the border against their will, but the AA claimed that it had “rescued” them by taking them away from the conflict zone, where the Burma Army has been carrying out an offensive against the AA.
Khonumthung News attempted to reach AA spokesperson Khaine Thukha for comment, but his phone was turned off.
A resident of Meezar, a village where many Chin villagers displaced by the conflict have taken shelter, said that he had heard news of the release, but was not sure if all of the King-Talin villagers were now in Ohn-thi-wa.
“I heard that AA forces sent them to Ohn-thi-wa yesterday [July 31]. I don’t know exactly how many of them there were. We have yet to bring them here because of the security situation,” he said, adding that Ohn-thi-wa was a one-day walk away from Meezar.
In its statement, the AA also pledged to release detained “people who are not concerned with military affairs” at “a suitable time.”
The Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO), which has repeatedly called for the release of the villagers, said it welcomed the news.
“We welcome the release of the King-talin villagers. We are grateful for it. We expect that this sort of problem won’t occur again,” CHRO field director Salai Terah told Khonumthung News.
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FACEBOOK: In a statement, the armed group said that the villagers were “no longer under the care of AA forces.”
TWITTER: The move comes as the #ArakanArmy faces accusations of #HumanRights violations against civilians. #BurmaArmy #Burma #Myanmar