Military intelligence agents from Napyidaw arrested two Shan volunteer teachers in Pyin Oo Lwin this month, claiming that the young men were suspected of involvement in ethnic armed group attacks on Tatmadaw targets.
The teachers’ families, colleagues, and representatives of political parties are claiming that their detention is both unnecessary and illegal.
The young men, 28-year-old Sai Hkun Mong and 24-year-old Sai Leng Zuen are also brothers. They live in Pyin Oo Lwin’s Hpoung Taw ward, and volunteer at the Kaw Dai education center in Kunhing Township, Shan State.
Sai Saw Hla is the father of the two teachers, who remain in detention since their arrest nearly two weeks ago. He told SHAN that intelligence agents from Military Affairs Security (MAS) came to his house on the evening of August 17, demanding to investigate his sons. The agents told him that they thought the men had been involved in a joint attack by the Arakan Army (AA), Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) and Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) on the Defense Services Technological Academy (DSTA) on August 15.
Sai Hkun Mong was home at the time, but Sai Leng Zuen was traveling to Kaw Dai. Agents searched the house for nearly six hours, Sai Saw Hla said.
“They searched every corner of our house. They found a small walkie-talkie and camouflage blankets, which Sai Leng Zuen used in his school. Then the military intelligence agents arrested my elder son at night on August 17,” the father, Sai Saw Hla, explained.
He then picked up Sai Leng Zuen was picked up from the Kaw Dai education center in Kunhing and transferred him to the Pyin Oo Lwin police station, where both him and his brother have been held ever since.
“Family members are allowed to see them. We give them food and other things. They have not been tortured during the investigation,” Sai Saw Hla said to SHAN. “There is no link between my sons and the attack. We want them to release my sons if they are sure they are not linked to this case.”
The authorities are reportedly preparing to prosecute Sai Hkun Mong and Sai Leng Zuen for violations of Article 17(1) of the Unlawful Associations Act, but Sai Saw Hla said he has not been informed of updates on the case.
The Kaw Dai education center confirmed the young men’s contributions to their school and the Shan community, and also denied that Sai Hkun Mong or Sai Leng Zuen had any involvement in the attack on the military academy.
Sai Pong Hkawng, the founder of Kaw Dai, described Sai Hkun Mong as a skilled traditional sword dancer, and Sai Leng Zuen as preparing for further studies. The discovery of a walkie-talkie in the men’s home should not be cause for alarm, he added, saying that the walkie-talkies belong to the school.
“Military intelligence agents found walkie-talkies and a GPS tracker in their home. These things are mostly used for festivals in our area. That’s why the army accused them of helping the Northern Alliance members,” Sai Pong Hkawng told SHAN, referring to the AA, MNDAA and TNLA. “When our students go to villages, they use walkie-talkies and GPS for communication purposes,” he added.
Representatives of the political party the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD) said that people are not allowed to be detained for more than 24 hours without being charged with a crime, and on those grounds, the two teachers should be released.
“They have yet to report the arrest until today. It’s not in line with law. I cannot accept this case,” Sai Lek, the SNLD general secretary, told SHAN. “I don’t think it should be like this. I want to say that the respective authorities are not following the law, and this is not in line with law.”
Sai Lek said the SNLD would help work for the release of the two volunteer teachers.
Joint forces belonging to the AA, MNDAA and TNLA carried out five coordinated attacks on August 15 in Pyin Oo Lwin in Mandalay and Nawng Khio Township in northern Shan State, including the DSTA. A total of 14 army and police officers, and one civilian, were killed in the strikes.
Since the attacks, the Burma Army has launched an offensive against the ethnic armed groups along the Mandalay-Muse national highway road in Kyaukme, Hsipaw, Lashio, Hsenwi, Kutkai, Muse and Namkham townships in northern Shan State. More than 5,000 locals have had to flee from their homes due to fighting.