A reported six Myanmar nationals with alleged ties to that country’s Arakan Army rebel group and its political wing, the United League of Arakan, landed at Yangon International Airport late last night, after the Singaporean government announced their arrest and deportation.
In a statement from the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), the government said the presence of supporters and organizers for the groups was “inimical to Singapore’s security,” pointing to deadly attacks on police outposts by the group earlier this year.
“According to reports, the AA killed over 20 police officers in the two attacks. Family members of police officers, including women and children, were reportedly abducted by the AA in these attacks,” the MHA wrote.
The Myanmar Press Photo Agency reported that the sextet arrived back in Yangon at 11pm last night, and uploaded a video showing Ko Tin Hlaing Oo, identified by Myanmar outlet the Irrawaddy as a spokesman for the Arakanese Association Singapore (AAS), being greeted by a scrum of reporters.
In the video, Hlaing Oo can initially be heard telling reporters he was “fine,” then snapping when they continue to ask questions.
“I came back by myself, what does it have to do with you?” he can be heard shouting.
In its statement, Singapore’s Home Affairs ministry gave no indication as to whether the deportations came at the behest of the Yangon government, though the Irrawaddy’s report quotes a longtime friend of Ko Aung Myat Kyaw, cousin of Arakan Army chief Tun Myat Naing and one of those deported, as saying the Myanmar government had been seeking Singaporean cooperation for some time.
Calls to Myanmar’s President Office spokesperson Zaw Htay and Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson U Kyaw Zeya went unanswered.
In addition to Hlaing Oo and Kyaw, the Irrawaddy identifies the others deported as AAS chairperson Ko Hein Zaw, vice chair Daw Aye Myat Mon, and communications official Ko Ye Kyaw Htet. A sixth man, identified as Ko Tun Aye, was also arrested.
The Arakanese Association Singapore (AAS) is a group dedicated to contributing aid from Singapore to Arakanese who have been displaced by military action in northern Rakhine State.
The Arakan Army was formed in 2009 by Rakhine nationalists, one of many such rebel groups battling majority rule by ethnic Burmese. It was the January and March attacks by the AA earlier this year that were used as the casus belli for a fresh round of brutal operations by the Myanmar military in Rakhine State, actions that have been described by “horrific and unrepentant” by Amnesty International.
The state has been in near-constant turmoil since August 2017, when the military began a massive campaign against the Rohingya Muslim minority. The operations, which have seen more than 700,000 Rohingya driven into refugee camps across the border in neighboring Bangladesh amid rape, murder, and the wholesale destruction of villages, has been widely decried by the international community and labeled “ethnic cleansing” by the United Nations.
According to Singapore’s Ministry of Home Affairs, one of the six deported yesterday, unidentified by name, had “coordinated AA’s fund-raising efforts here,” while others were simply fingered for having provided financial support.
The ministry further noted their involvement in recent Singapore-based celebrations marking the 10th anniversary of the founding of the AA and the United League of Arakan.
At the event, those present wore clothing with the official AA logo, they said, while some “were dressed in military uniforms with replica firearms.”
“There was also a live streaming video in which the leader of the AA urged the Rakhine people to unite, and fight for Rakhine independence through the AA’s armed conflict against the authorities,” according to the ministry’s statement.
“Any person, local or foreign, who engages in such activity, which is inimical to Singapore’s national security, will be dealt with firmly. Foreigners visiting, working or living in Singapore have to abide by our laws,” it reads, before adding that Singaporeans should not let “the actions of a few individuals taint the positive contributions of the rest of the community, who live harmoniously amongst us.”