The Arakan Army (AA) has captured more than 130 villagers in Paletwa Township, Chin State, claims a local ethnic organization. Although the AA has denied additional accusations of murders and sexual assaults in the township, if the allegations of arrests are true, it means the AA’s campaign of abductions and hostage-taking will continue to threaten the peace process into the new year.
The Khumi Affairs Coordination Council (KACC), an ethnic Khumi organization, reported that the AA had entered the village of Kyeelay and put it on lockdown, terrorizing its citizens and forcing young men to transport supplies and perform other tasks. Former Chin State Minister Salai Isaac Khen also claimed on Facebook that the AA had sexually assaulted young women in the village and beat and tortured others, resulting in two deaths. The AA soon issued a denial of these claims.
Regardless of the accuracy of the new accusations, there is no denying that the AA’s hostage-taking tactics continue to terrorize Rakhine and Chin States. A week prior to the Kyeelay incident, three men in the same township were arrested by an unknown group and later found dead. On Christmas Eve, the AA abducted three immigration officers in Rakhine State, and the group has yet to release abducted parliamentarian U Whei Tin. The MP, who represents the Paletwa constituency in the upper house, was previously reported to have been killed in a military strike against an AA base. The group insists he is still alive, though declines to show footage or any evidence of his well being for “security reasons.”
The ongoing violence in Rakhine State is a huge political liability for the country. The war with the AA and a separate conflict with the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, a Muslim group, have contributed to a general air of instability and uncertainty that is warding away foreign tourists and investors. Furthermore, the constant skirmishes are exacerbating efforts to repatriate more than 700,000 displaced Rakhine Muslims, which the NLD government will need to accomplish if it hopes to shake off international political scorn.