SINGAPORE - The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has arrested a group of Myanmar nationals for using Singapore to mobilise support for armed violence against their government.
Their actions in support of the Arakan Army (AA), an armed group that has conducted violent attacks in Myanmar, are “inimical to Singapore’s security”, MHA said in a statement on Wednesday (July 10). It added that those found involved in activities of security concern will be deported.
The ministry’s statement came following reports in the Myanmar media that six leaders of the Arakan Association (Singapore) had been picked up, and that their computers and mobile phones were seized.
The Arakan Army, founded in April 2009 to fight the Myanmar military for greater autonomy in Rakhine and Chin states, has been designated a terrorist group by the Myanmar government.
MHA said its investigations found the group had organised and mobilised some members of the Myanmar community in Singapore to support the army and its political wing, the United League of Arakan (ULA).
The ministry did not say how many were being investigated, but Myanmar news site Irrawaddy reported six individuals were arrested.
The site named them as association chairman Ko Hein Zaw, vice-chair Daw Aye Myat Mon, communication officer Ko Ye Kyaw Htet, and Ko Tin Hlaing Oo, Ko Aung Myat Kyaw and Ko Tun Aye.
MHA said one member of the group has a direct relationship with a key AA leader, and that at the behest of the AA leadership, he actively mobilised support among the Arakan community in Singapore.
He urged them to contribute to a “national fund”, and used community events to propagate the cause and rally support for the Rakhine “fatherland”.
The Irrawaddy reported that Ko Aung Myat Kyaw is the cousin of AA chief Tun Myat Naing.
The ministry added that the people investigated provided regular financial support to the AA, with one giving regular monthly contributions.
The ministry said that all those arrested were also involved in a recent celebration of the 10th anniversary of the AA and ULA’s founding, where those attending wore clothing bearing the official AA logo.
At the event, actors dressed in military uniforms and bearing replica firearms depicted the AA’s armed offensive against the Myanmar military’s actions in Rakhine state.
A video in which the AA chief urged viewers to unite and fight for Rakhine independence through armed conflict against their government was also shown, MHA added.
“The immigration facilities of those found to be involved in activities of security concern will be cancelled, and they will be deported from Singapore,” the ministry said.
AA, which has some 7,000 members, carried out two attacks on Myanmar police posts earlier this year, seizing large caches of weapons and ammunition.
Myanmar media reports said that more than 20 police officers were killed, with women and children abducted during the attacks.
Professor Rohan Gunaratna of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies told The Straits Times that the arrests signify Singapore’s zero-tolerance approach towards terror and insurgent groups and their activities. “Although AA is known as an insurgent group, it is also a terrorist group that has assassinated ethnic Arakans living in Rakhine state,” he said.
In its statement, MHA said it takes “a very serious view of anyone who supports, promotes, undertakes or makes preparations to undertake armed violence, regardless how they rationalise such violence ideologically, or where the violence takes place”.
“They should not import their domestic political issues from their countries into Singapore,” it added.
MHA said that anyone who engages in such activities that are harmful to Singapore’s national security will be dealt with firmly, stressing that foreigners living or working in Singapore must abide by local laws.
It also added that it recognises that the very large majority of Myanmar nationals in Singapore are law-abiding and have made contributions.
“We must be careful not to let the actions of a few individuals taint the positive contributions of the rest of the community, who live harmoniously among us,” it said.
This is not the first time action has been taken against foreign nationals in Singapore for armed violence.
In 2015, 27 radicalised Bangladeshi construction workers considering taking up arms abroad were arrested under the Internal Security Act and repatriated.
In 2016, eight Bangladeshi workers planning to stage terror attacks back home were detained. Six were charged in court and sentenced to between two and five years’ jail for terror financing, while the remaining two were deported.