Teenagers disappear into junta custody from roadside checkpoint in restive Rakhine State

Three teenage boys were arrested by the military authorities in Rathedaung Township on Tuesday, two days after the Arakan Army (AA) warned the public of a potential return to fighting between their forces and those of the junta in Rakhine State.

Aung Myo Khant, Khaing Myo Lin and Nay Tun Oo—all between 16 and 17 years old—had been living in an internally displaced persons camp for people who fled fighting between the AA and Myanmar army prior to the February 2021 coup.

“The three boys were running away from their families. They weren’t happy living in the camp,” a local man close to the boys and their families said.

The teenagers had temporarily sought shelter in a monastery in Rathedaung town, he told Myanmar Now, and were on their way to Thandwe Township by motorcycle when they were arrested.

“They called us briefly, told us that they had been arrested and hung up. We have since lost contact with them,” the man said. 

A relative of one of the boys gave a similar statement, but confirmed that they were taken by the military.

“They only said that they had been arrested. They didn’t say where they were. Their phones have been turned off since,” the family member said. “When we asked them who had arrested them, they said, ‘soldiers.’” 

There are three junta security checkpoints on the road connecting Rathedaung with neighbouring Ponnagyun, the route on which the boys are believed to have been detained. Several locals said that travellers are barred from using the motorway after 6pm. 

All calls by Myanmar Now to the central police station in Rathedaung for an update on the boys’ condition and whereabouts went unanswered. 

A Rakhine local recently told Myanmar Now that amid the rising tension in the state, the military had been “terrorising people at security checkpoints on highways more frequently.”

The AA’s Sunday statement on the social media platform Telegram urged civilians “to avoid areas where the Myanmar army is active and where its troops are based.” 

The same day as the statement was published, several locals in southern Chin State’s Paletwa Township, where the AA is also active, said members of the ethnic armed organisation opened fire on a junta helicopter flying towards a military base near the village of Than Htaung.

The 300-household ethnic Chin community is divided into two parts and located on both the eastern and the western shores of the Laymyo stream. The junta base is on the western shore, nearest to the older section of Than Htaung.

“The AA soldiers fired shots from the eastern shore of the stream at the junta helicopter and the soldiers from the helicopter fired back,” a local from Than Htaung told Myanmar Now, adding that stray bullets hit several homes in the newer section of the village on the stream’s eastern banks. 

Residents from that part of Than Htaung fled, he said.

It is not known if there were casualties during the 30-minute clash. 

Myanmar Now was unable to reach AA spokesperson Khaing Thukha for comment on the incident. 

Tensions have been growing in Rakhine State since last November, when the AA and the military clashed for the first time in a year. Battles also occurred in December, as well as in February of this year, in the northern part of the state.

Last month, military commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing invited leaders of ethnic armed organisations including the AA to attend an upcoming meeting in Naypyitaw.

On Tuesday, spokesperson Khaing Thukha announced that the AA would not be joining the talks, citing the ongoing junta interference in AA administration and jurisdiction in Rakhine State.

The announcement came one day after members of the AA leadership and the shadow National Unity Government held their first reported online conference. 

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