Arakan Army vows to take action after detainee dies in its custody

After a 24-year-old man’s severely bruised body is returned to his family, activists and politicians call for the ethnic armed organisation to hold its members accountable for his death

The Arakan Army (AA) is launching an investigation into the death of a man during interrogation by its members after returning his body to his family last week in Rakhine State’s Kyaukphyu Township.

Khaing Thukha, the AA’s spokesperson, told local media that the group would “take action responsibly” concerning the death of 24-year-old factory worker Aung Naing, who was detained on August 25 by the AA’s political wing—the United League of Arakan (ULA)—after being suspected of stealing a motorcycle. 

He was reportedly “handled roughly” by AA troops during questioning after he tried to escape while being made to work outside of his cell on October 10. Khaing Thukha said that Aung Naing collapsed at 2am on October 11 when he went to use the toilet accompanied by ULA police personnel and died, despite being given medical attention. 

His body was brought back to his family in Kywe Te village two days later. He has since been cremated.

“We are assuming that he died suddenly due to the injuries he got during interrogation,” Khaing Thukha told media outlet Arakan Princess, explaining that Aung Naing appeared to go into shock after drinking water that night. “Even if he did indeed die of shock, his death happened in custody of the ULA’s police department, and we will take full responsibility and accountability for it.”

The victim, Aung Naing (Western News)

A local woman close to Aung Naing’s family told Myanmar Now that the victim’s body showed he had sustained severe injuries and he had sutures indicating that he had undergone an autopsy. 

“There were injuries and bruises all over his body—essentially, every inch of his body was bruised. How could they do this to their own people?” she said. “It wasn’t even that big of a crime.” 

Members of Aung Naing’s family reportedly travelled to Kyaukphyu town to meet the owner of the stolen motorcycle in question, and learned that he did not believe the young man was responsible for the theft. 

A local rights activist condemned the alleged beating of Aung Naing and warned of greater consequences for the AA and its ULA administration, which has been implemented in Kyaukphyu, as well as Ann, Taungup and Yanbye townships since late 2020.

“This will only make the public lose trust in the ULA and AA. Higher-ups need to look into this carefully and train their troops to ensure this doesn’t happen again in the future,” the individual said on the condition of anonymity. 

Ethnic Rakhine politician and former parliamentarian Pe Than commented that the AA needed to be monitored to ensure that appropriate action is indeed taken in response to Aung Naing’s death. 

“This case happened due to the poor management of the police force of the AA. They had no right to use excessive force,” he said.

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