On February 2, Arakan Army (AA) forces entered the village of King-talin in southern Chin State and forced its inhabitants to go with them to an AA military camp on the Bangladesh border. Nearly six months later, after repeated demands from the Khumi Chin Ethnic Affairs Council and the Chin Human Rights Organization, the villagers were finally released on July 31.
Of the 54 villagers who were originally detained, 14 escaped and one fell ill and died. Sein Mya, an Evangelical Methodist Church minister who was one of the 39 King-talin villagers released by AA forces at the end of last month, spoke to Khonumthung News about his experience.
Question: Did the AA forces detain everyone in the village on February 2, or did some of them go voluntarily?
Answer: At first, they told us that we all had to follow them. There were some Rakhine people from Khamaungwa village gathered in King-talin [who were willing to go]. But we told them we didn’t want to follow them, so they said we could stay. We returned to our homes, but then they ordered us to gather at the village headman’s house at around 8pm. After that, they brought us to the border area. We did not go with them voluntarily. We were forced to follow them to the border area.
Q: How did you live there? Did you all stay in the AA camp?
A: We stayed at the camp when we first arrived there, but later we built our own village.
Q: You were there for well over five months. What did you do there? Were you forced to work?
A: Well, we had to help them. We had to carry materials for the AA forces. We had to work in the fields. They ordered us to work there. It wasn’t voluntary. It was forced.
Q: Did you get enough food to eat? Were you tortured?
A: They provided us with enough food, including cooking oil, salt, fish paste, and rice. And we were not tortured. But they used to call us when they were going to get food and other things, so we had to help them.
Q: Why did the AA release you? Did the villagers demand to be released?
A: I demanded it. Another Chin minister, Issac Khin, also requested our release. Then they asked us if we wanted to go back home. When we said that we did, they told us they would send us back.
Q: Now you are in Meezar[a village with many Chin villagers displaced by the conflict between the Burma
Army and the AA]
. Are you still worried? How do you feel?
A: I’m still afraid of them. We used to hear their words: “We will completely attack them in 2019-2020.” So I’m still worried. I don’t know what will happen in the future.
Q: Did any villagers remain in the AA camp?
A: All of the Khumi ethnic people of King-talin are here now. None of them stayed behind. But the Rakhine people from Khamaungwa are still at the AA camp. They haven’t returned yet.
Q: Are you OK here now? What are your challenges?
A: We still have difficulties, because we don’t have houses of our own here. We don’t have anything, including money. I feel at a loss here, like everything is uncertain. I want to hear some words of encouragement from the authorities. If we can live safely, I think we will be happy. Until now, we haven’t heard anything encouraging. I don’t know what will happen in the future.
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