Myanmar army arrests medics in land dispute

Image copyright EPA Image caption A crowd of ethnic minorities protest against Aung San Suu Kyi at Myanmar’s parliament in 2017

Myanmar soldiers have arrested 18 medics for treating and protecting anti-junta members, government officials said.

They have been accused of trying to “obstruct and delay” military roadwork.

Most of the 16 men and four women from Arakan state in the north of the country are ethnic Chin, their lawyer said.

She called for the 18 to be freed, saying it was part of an “elaborate ploy” by the government to “intimidate” her clients.

A previous request by the lawyers to visit the injured, and see for themselves evidence that they had been treating unarmed people, was refused.

According to the government, army workers repairing a road found the wounded near the village of Dolo.

“Army soldiers went to those suspects and arrested them for illegally obstructing and delaying the army’s work on the road from Tamjik (Abuser) to Son Prayo [Fort],” the police said in a statement quoted by the BBC.

More than 100 people protested outside the southern military base on Thursday, according to Reuters.

Many ethnic minority people live on both sides of a poorly-marked border in Arakan state, which has long been the site of clashes between the government and local fighters, rebel groups and pro-independence groups.

‘No constitutional authority’

Community leaders in Arakan state have been campaigning to have the state recognised as an independent nation.

Two congressmen – Kokang member Ken-Oi Loi and Khun Mu Thow – were named on a UN report as participants in a foiled assassination attempt on Aung San Suu Kyi in 2012.

This is the latest move against ethnic Chin supporters

Mr Loi and Mr Thow lived with an old family friend in Mazwg Pan, which was used by the military to make banknotes.

A Reuters journalist who visited the area in December 2017, reported that “burnt cars and houses” were a common sight.

Government spokesman Zaw Htay said he was not aware of any trial.

A spokesman for the Chin Community and Freedom Network, the group overseeing the community’s lawyers’ case, told the BBC that he had seen no evidence that the suspects had been involved in armed activity.

“They are apparently not armed like all those others, so I think they should be released.”

Amnesty International has also called for the doctors’ release, saying “the alleged charges of obstructing the work of the army on a road may be politically motivated”.

“The government’s actions should be seen for what they are – no more, no less.”

Supporters say they have no “constitutional authority” to claim they are preventing the army from carrying out its work, and that it was the Chin militia that burned down their village.

In April, more than 3,500 Chin were displaced in Arches, a village in the neighbouring Shan state. They had been living in government-controlled territory and decided to try to return to Chin-controlled areas.

But security forces came to the village in armoured personnel carriers, and forced civilians to leave before they began to clear the area, a UN official said at the time.

The Chin militia supported the armed attacks against the NLD government in 1990, the BBC’s Brad Lendon in Myanmar says.

They accuse the army of persecuting them.

After becoming Myanmar’s de facto leader in 2016, Aung San Suu Kyi said she was aware of the claims against the Chin, and had promised to investigate.

According to the BBC’s Karen Wood in Rangoon, while the Chin have never had full autonomy, they are said to have been backed by anti-junta groups and insurgents in other parts of the country.

They are also supported by the Karen community, which has been a subject of bitter conflict in other parts of the country.

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