Security of village administrators becomes more precarious

 Rakhine State’s myriad problems between the government’s military force the “Tatmadaw” and the ethnic armed group the “Arakan Army” have been escalating since early December in 2018.

By Nay Myo Lin 03 Apr 2019

(Press conference on the arrest of 4 village administrators in Sittwe on March 6)

Written by Nay Myo Lin / DMG

Rakhine State’s myriad problems between the government’s military force the “Tatmadaw” and the ethnic armed group the “Arakan Army” have been escalating since early December in 2018.

During the fighting, villagers and village administrators, who have been accused for having affiliations with the ethnic armed group, have been detained for questioning.

First, Si Taung’s village administrator U Maung Thein Nyunt had been charged under section 505(a) and (b) for sedition because he told some media groups that 11 people from Si Taung village in Buthidaung Township were taken by a Tatmadaw troop on December 27 and used them as human shields,

Also, U Maung Tun Hlaing, administrator for Thayetpyin village, Buthidaung Township, has been charged under section 17 (1) and (2) of the Unlawful Associations’ Act.

Subsequently, some village administrators went missing.  No one knows which armed group abducted them.

In addition, U Kyaw Maung, administrator of Kyauk Khote village in Minbya Township was shot dead and innocent villagers were killed by gunfire. No one knows who committed these atrocities.

Because of the arrests and murders, village administrators are very concerned for their safety.

Some village administrators have become sandwiched between two armed groups during the fighting, and they are worried about the safety of their family and of themselves.

Thus, on January 15, a total of 30 village administrators from Rathedaung Township informed the relevant township administrator of their resignation.

The day when village administrators voiced their most serious concerns was February 28. Police arrested four village administrators from Mrauk-U Township during a monthly meeting held at a township administration office, and they were charged under section 17 (1) and (2) of the Unlawful Associations’ Act.

Consequently about 90 village administrators from Mrauk-U Township held a meeting at the Aloedawpyae monastery in Mrauk-U town on March 1. All of them agreed to resign and they handed in their official rubber stamps along with their resignation letter to the township administrator.

Their resignation letter said that four village administrators_ U Maung Oo Sein from Pyaing Cha village, U Sein Hla Maung from Yan Aung Pyin, U Aung Naing Tun from Kyauk Se Pyin and U Maung Tin Shwe from Pauk Pin Kwin were taken out of the meeting room after their names were called out by the deputy township administrator who was delivering a brief before the township administrator arrived.

After the meeting, the gathered assembly were aware that four colleagues were detained by police after they asked their township administrator about their colleagues’ absence.  The township administrator told them police arrested them without advance notice, this was stated in the resignation letter.

But, Police Lt-Col Maung Maung Soe from Rakhine State Police Force denied the fact that police did not inform the township administrator about the arrest, and he said that the township administrator was told about the arrest before the meeting.

“We presented a message with a list of names to the district administrator. We instructed the head of the district level police force to contact the relevant township administrator to carry out orders,” Police Lt-Col Maung Maung Soe said.

The district administrator told the township administrator, then he told the deputy township administrator about the action to detain village administrators for questioning, the police officer said.

The ward/village administrators are elected by local people and they are working for the development of their village or ward including the education sector. They made many sacrifices for their community.

Thus, village administrators said in the resignation letter that they believed that arresting their colleagues in the meeting room without informing the township administrator in advance amounts to threatening the whole administrative mechanism.

Moreover, village administrators from Rathedaung and Kyauktaw Townships were arrested under the accusation of violating the Unlawful Associations’ Act. So, they assumed that there would be more arrests of village administrators in the future.

“In conclusion, because of the unstable regional situation and the arrests, we found that ward/village administrators lack proper security, there’s not enough personnel to protect them. So, administrators become potential targets and our ambition to uphold our duties waned so we decided to resign after the meeting,” the resignation letter stated.

But, U Htay Maung, deputy director of Rakhine State General Administration Department, said that the department had no intention to accept the resignation letter because it was invalid for all administrators to sign one document collectively.

According to the section (14) of the Ward or Village Tract Administration Law, ward / village administrators can submit their resignation to the township administrator individually.

If a township administrator receives a resignation letter from a ward/village administrator, he can allow the resignation under the approval of the district administrator after conducting an investigation if need be, according to the law.

Even though the State General Administration Department said the mass resignation was rejected, village administrators do not want to keep on performing their duties.

U Htay Maung said if they tender their resignation individually, their resignation will be accepted.

“They are entitled to quit their post if they are unable to carry out their duties or want to stop their work for other reasons,” U Htay Maung said.

However, administrators who quit their post responded that the Ward/ Village Administration law did not say, “collective resignations were prohibited.”

“As far as I know, the law did not state whether to submit individual or collective resignation letters. So, we have no plan to submit individual resignation letters,” said U Wai Hla Aung, administrator for Tin Nyo village in Mrauk-U Township.

Another 11 village administrators also resigned for the same reason.

Then, houses in Mrauk-U Township flew the Rakhine State flag, but no one mentioned the exact reason for this gesture. However, local politicians and nationalist activists said that it was a kind of protest in response to the arrest of village administrators.

The flag of Rakhine State has been prevalent in the region. Meanwhile, a village administrator who signed a resignation letter adamantly demanded the release of detained colleagues.

A few days later, police released four village administrators and a villager from detention.

The government released a statement that Mrauk-U Myoma police station detained four village administrators and a local merchant from Mrauk-U Township according to the report of a military officer for allegedly having ties to an unlawful association, but they have been released from detention because the plaintiff could not present sufficient evidence to charge them.

More than 60 village administrators from Mrauk-U Township recently decided they would return to their duties.

However, village administrators feel unsafe and are still concerned for their safety in the aftermath of arrests, missing persons and murders of their colleagues.