Junta searches for AA-linked administrators, in latest sign of Rakhine tensions

Residents of southern Rakhine State’s Taungup Township say that Myanmar’s military has been conducting searches for village administrators linked to the Arakan Army (AA).

According to local sources, around 50 regime troops entered the village of Sar Pyin last Friday to look for administrators appointed by the AA’s political wing, the United League of Arakan (ULA).

The soldiers, who stationed themselves at the village monastery, began a thorough search the following morning, witnesses said.

“They had a list of the names and addresses of ULA-appointed administrators. They took photos of both the backs and fronts of their houses, and also went inside. We’re still not sure what it was all about,” said one person who did not want to be named.

Several other homes were also ransacked during the search, the sources said, adding that the troops left the next morning after failing to find any of the administrators they were looking for.

Sar Pyin, a village of around 800 households, is located about 30km from the town of Taungup.

The incident is just the latest since last month, when residents of several other villages in Taungup Township, including Lamumaw, Buu Shwe Maw, and Ngat Pyaw Taw, were subjected to similar searches targeting ULA-appointed administrators.

Searches have also been reported in Ponnagyun Township and other parts of northern Rakhine State, where the AA has a much stronger presence than it does in the south. 

In Gangawgyun, a village in Sittwe Township, several dozen officials, including soldiers and police, conducted a late-night check of household lists on Saturday, a resident said.

“They wanted to know who the head of the household was, who the parents were, how many people were in the house. That’s all they asked,” said the Gangawgyun villager.

Earlier that day, police and intelligence officers raided a house in the state capital Sittwe that they appeared to believe was being used as an office by Narinjara, an independent news outlet. 

No arrests were made, and the targeted journalists have since gone into hiding.

Tensions have been growing in Rakhine State since last November, when the AA and the military clashed for the first time in a year.

Although there has been no major fighting since then, the junta has tightened security in Maungdaw and Mrauk-U townships, in the northern part of the state, since the beginning of this year.

Last month, AA commander Gen Twan Mrat Naing warned in a speech commemorating the 13th anniversary of the group’s founding that war could resume at any time.

Last June, the regime arrested Aung Win Naing, the chairman of the Moe Charity School in Taungup, on suspicion of having links to the AA, despite the fact that the group had been removed from a list of terrorist organisations three months earlier.

The regime has also targeted supporters of the ousted ruling party, the National League for Democracy, which is popular in the southern part of the state.

Late last year, it detained a teacher in Taungup who was taking part in the Civil Disobedience Movement and three activists accused of funding the People’s Defence Force.

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