Early December 2019, the wife and children of Arakan Army (AA) leader Major-General Twan Mrat Naing were arrested by Thai authorities in the northern city of Chiang Mai, Thailand. The wife, Daw Hnin Zar Phyu, and her 11-year-old daughter Ma Saw Pyae Shin and toddler son Myat Linn Zan, were detained by immigration authorities on December 4, and are currently being held in the Thai capital Bangkok.
DMG reporter Khaing Roe La spoke to a handful of lawmakers and civil society leaders — including U San Kyaw Hla, the father of Daw Hnin Zar Phyu and speaker of the Arakan State parliament — about their arrest.
U Oo Hla Saw (Pyithu Hluttaw MP, Mrauk-U Township)
I can’t accept it. It was surprising. I thought they should not be arrested, especially during a time to talk to resolve political problems, as a move toward the democratic path.
The peacemaking process normally does not involve much trust. So, how do we build trust after the arrest of the family members of the AA chief? Talks will be delayed.
When there is an armed conflict, both sides fight on the battlefield as well as negotiate at tables. It is normal. It is the same in other countries.
However, instances of arresting family members were not seen in the past, since the beginning of the civil war in 1948. There was fighting between the Tatmadaw and communists, or between the Tatmadaw and ethnic armed groups. But family members were not arrested. It did not happen even under the successive military governments.
But military intelligence made trouble for family members if they could not arrest a politician or a student leader. It is an unacceptable act.
From the legal point of view or human rights point of view, arresting the wife and children of the AA chief is not a good act. No organization can accept it, even if they do not like the AA. The act is not political activity.
Arresting the spouse, son and daughter of the AA chief as the country is facing cases against it at the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court will not produce a good outcome. This could harm the dignity of the country.
I have heard that journalists and human rights activists also do not like the arrest of the family of the AA chief.
Maung Saung Kha (Athan; Founder and Director)
What we found is that the government tried to file a lawsuit against the family of the AA chief because it wants to take action against the AA chief. From a human rights standpoint, it should not happen. It requires talks at a round table to resolve Arakan State’s affairs. It is not a fair action, arresting the family of the AA chief, when it cannot successfully crack down on the armed group. And it is breaching child rights because the arrest includes children.
U San Kyaw Hla (Speaker of the Arakan State Parliament)
I saw the news that they were arrested firstly at Narinjara News. Then, I saw the news being covered in Facebook posts and by other news agencies. I don’t know why they have been arrested. As a father, I feel sad for them. This could hamper the peacemaking process. They [the AA] might have personal feelings. It is not good if someone has personal feelings when making negotiations with another group. Arresting the family is not a solution. No one gets success by this means.
Daw Khin Saw Wai (Pyithu Hluttaw MP, Rathedaung Township)
Civil war has raged for seven decades in Myanmar. There has been fighting between the Tatmadaw and ethnic armed groups, or among ethnic armed groups. Combat was mostly seen in Kachin, Kayin and Shan states. But there was no arrest of family members. It is an unacceptable case that the wife and children of the AA chief have been arrested.
This could result in bad consequences; especially, people will suffer. Currently, people have been displaced from homes due to war. If more armed conflict occurs in the region, Arakan State might face more challenges.
As a woman and a representative of the people, I have sympathy for them. She might be worried for her children, who are 11 years old and 13 months old. Anyone can fight for their political ideology. But women and children should not be victims of their hostilities.
The government and ethnic armed groups need to talk continuously. The arrest of the family of top leaders of the armed group during negotiating time could lead to more negative results. Our country is in dire need of peace. If we could build peace, our region would be developed. People would be relieved of the sufferings of war. I’d like to suggest and urge to make peace between them.
U Maung Maung Soe (analyst of ethnic and political affairs)
It doesn’t matter if the family was arrested during wartime. Arresting them regardless of the war is not a suitable case because it is not good for all, if the other side sees the family of military officers as enemy. If so, the hatred between them might grow larger.
It would be best if the government does not ask the Thai government to hand over the mother and children. This is a case that the Thai government should decide. Currently, the Thai government has not transferred them to Myanmar since human rights groups, political organizations and CSOs objected to handing them over to the Myanmar government.
The arrest might harm the peacemaking process.