ULA/AA to establish its own judicial system in Rakhine State

The United League of Arakan (ULA), the political wing of the Arakan Army (AA), has announced that it will set up a judiciary in Rakhine State.

According to a statement published on the social media account of AA deputy commander Brig-Gen Nyo Twan Aung on Sunday, all legal cases, including cases related to violence, theft and land disputes will be referred to the ULA judiciary.

Complaints can be submitted by victims, their relatives, or eyewitnesses to the ULA via email, the Russian social media platform VK, and the mobile app Telegram. All personal information provided—including the name and contact information of the complainant—will be protected, according to the statement. 

The AA’s move has been welcomed by some locals, who see it as an attempt to stabilise the area, and which they hope will facilitate greater transparency and accountability within the ULA/AA.

One Minbya Township local speculated that Sunday’s establishment of an avenue for the submission of public complaints may be the ULA/AA’s way of rooting out corrupt members.  

“I think the directive was issued because of a post on Twitter. Some followers of ULA/AA are taking unfair advantage of their connections,” the Minbya resident said, referencing recent tweets from Minbya and Mrauk-U township locals to AA chief Maj-Gen Twan Mrat Naing. They had asked him to look into the abuse of power by his organisation’s members in these areas. 

A villager in Buthidaung Township told Myanmar Now on the condition of anonymity that prior local complaints could have been the impetus for the ULA/AA’s launch of the new complaint mechanism.

“Some people close to their administration have oppressed the villagers. People do not want to be treated unfairly, so they complained. Then the statement was issued,” he said, adding, “As a resident, I am glad about it. There will be more respect and trust.” 

ULA/AA judicial offices have already been set up in areas under the armed group’s administration, but not in towns under the junta’s control, locals said. 

The Minbya resident who spoke to Myanmar Now said that locals preferred the ULA/AA judicial offices to the courts of the Myanmar military. 

“Although there is no [ULA/AA] judicial office in Minbya, rural areas have those offices. I heard that they are resolving all cases related to legal violations,” he said. 

Participants in an AA military training seen in an Al Jazeera news program in January 2020

Myanmar Now tried to contact AA spokesperson Khaing Thukha regarding the announcement, but was unable to obtain comment at the time of reporting. 

The ULA/AA’s increased influence in the region has been apparent in its public health directives concerning the Covid-19 pandemic. 

On July 20, the ULA/AA issued a stay-at-home order lasting until August 4 to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in Rakhine State. 

In some northern Rakhine State townships, the AA is reportedly punishing those who do not comply with their Covid-19 related guidelines.

“We saw that administration committees of the ULA/AA were patrolling Minbya with bamboo sticks. Those scenes can also be seen in Kyauktaw. In Rathedaung, we saw people being told to do sit-ups as punishment [for going out],” the Minbya local told Myanmar Now.

The AA chief issued a video on July 25 warning people to comply with the directive. 

On July 27 and 28, stun grenade blasts occurred in the state capital of Sittwe; the AA announced that the blasts were a “sound warning” related to a lack of compliance around public health measures. 

The AA’s shifting role in Rakhine State follows a nearly two-year period of intense fighting with the Myanmar military that ended in November 2020 when the two sides reached a ceasefire during a meeting in the Wa-administered region. 

Yet nine months on, the more than 200,000 people internally displaced by the armed conflict in Rakhine and southern Chin states remain unable to return to their homes, and unexploded landmines continue to put local populations at risk. 

Although the junta subsequently removed the AA from its list of terrorist groups, ethnic Rakhine civilians are still among those facing charges filed by the military for allegedly having ties to the armed group.

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