Two prominent leaders of the ethnic Rakhine community have arrested after delivering fiery speeches in support of Rakhine independence and armed struggle against the Myanmar government.
They spoke at a Buddhist monastery in Rathedaung Township, Rakhine State, at a commemoration event for the 233rd anniversary of the fall of the Arakan (Rakhine) Kingdom at to the Burmese in 1785.
Writer Wai Hin Aung (also known as Aung Kyaw Win) and Lower House MP Dr. Aye Maung both encouraged the event’s attendees to take advantage of the Myanmar government’s instability amid the Rohingya refugee crisis and fight for independence.
“Rakhine State has lost its sovereignty for 233 years, or around five generations,” Wai Hin Aung said, as quoted by the Ministry of Information. “Today, the Arakan Army, led by Twan Mrat Naing, is undertaking an armed struggle to regain Rakhine State and its sovereignty and to free us from Burmese servitude. All the people of Rathedaung Township have a duty to seek freedom from Burmese servitude.”
The Arakan Army has clashed repeatedly with Myanmar government troops in Kachin, Shan, and Rakhine states since 2009. Its stated aim is to “protect our Arakan people and to establish peace, justice, freedom, and development.” It is a member of the Northern Alliance and shares a headquarters with the Kachin Independence Army.
The writer went on: “The government is now facing a political crisis, and this is advantageous to us. It is the right time for us to take up armed struggle to regain our independence. All must participate in this struggle.”
During the same event, Dr. Aye Maung told his audience: “Burmese people consider Rakhine people as slaves and do not give equal rights to us. There are only two ways to regain our sovereignty, and one is armed struggle.”
He also advised Rakhines to “take advantage of the weakness of the government and march toward the goal of sovereignty.”
Dr. Aye Maung has risen to prominence since 2012 through his advocacy on behalf of Myanmar’s ethnic minorities other than the Rohingya, against whom he has called for genocide. He recently resigned from the Arakan National Party, for which he had served as chairman, amid a mess of political infighting.
On Tuesday, the Rakhine State government discussed the two leaders’ speeches at a cabinet meeting and filed charges against them that night at the Rathedaung police station. The two were charged under Section 17(1) of the Unlawful Associations Act, presumably for promoting the Arakan Army, which is considered an illegal organization. They also face charges under the Penal Code’s Section 505(b) for incitement and Section 121 for high treason.
Wai Hin Aung was arrested that day, and local authorities announced the cancellation of the second day of festivities, sparking a riot that ended after police killed at least seven Rakhine protesters.
Shortly before his arrest, Dr. Aye Maung told Eleven that the deaths were a consequence of the inability of the regional government to comprehend the importance of cultural events to ethnic minority groups.
“The government wants to form a true, federal Union and achieve national reconciliation. Most major races in Myanmar have lessons to learn from history. The Burmese have the lesson of King Thibaw and his queen being taken away by the British. Rakhine, Mon, and many others have their own historically and culturally important events…The decision by the regional authorities [to cancel the celebration] greatly harms the image of the Union government,” he said.
The UN and rights groups have condemned the use of violence and have called for a thorough investigation of the police response to the riot.
Dr. Aye Maung was reportedly arrested Wednesday night, sparking more protests outside his home in Sittwe and at the local police station.