A 60-year-old Indian national has died in the custody of Arakan Army, ethnic rebels in Myanmar, after he and four other Indian nationals working on an Indian project in the northern part of Myanmar’s Rakhine State were detained and questioned on Sunday. The four others were released on Monday along with the body of the deceased.
The incident took place on a day Prime Minister Narendra Modi met Myanmar’s State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi in Bangkok on the sidelines of ASEAN and East Asia summits. The Prime Minister stressed the value India attaches to Myanmar’s cooperation in ensuring that insurgent groups do not find space to operate across the India-Myanmar border.
According to a statement by Arakan Army, a translated version of which was accessed by The Indian Express, the Indian national who died has been identified as Vinoo Gopal, who was working as a “Construction advisor”.
Gopal, the statement said, developed laboured breathing and died in a short time despite “best medical care” provided by their medical staff. He had been suffereing from heart disease and diabetes and was under medication, the statement said. The United League of Arakan (ULA) and Arakan Army (AA) expressed regret over his death.
The statement identified the Indian nationals released as Vijay Kumar Singh (48), Nangshanbok Suiam (47), Rakesh Sharma (64) and Ajay Kothiyal (50).
The Arakan Army said in its statement, “We often take and check transportation vehicles going through the battlefield area… to know whether there are members of Myanmar army, weapons and persons related to Myanmar army on those vehicles.”
Fresh escalation in violence
The latest incident comes amid an escalation of violation in the restive Rakhine State. Tens of thousands have been displaced across Rakhine since the clashes began in December. This brings a fresh chaos to the region from where more than 7,30,000 Rohingya Muslims fled a military crackdown in 2017.
“When two speedboats going along the Kaladan River were taken and checked at about 10 am on November 3, 2019, 10 people were found on them. Of them, five are Indian Citizens working at Paletwa C & C JV Camp, one supervisor, one MP, one translator and two speedboat drivers.” The statement identifies all of them, including an MP from Suu Kyi-led National League for Democracy, U Whaei Tenn (40). They kept the lawmaker in custody and released eight people — four Indians, two translators and two boat drivers — at Rakhine State’s Kyauktaw police station on Monday.
“The body of Mr Vinoo Gopal, 60, was released along with those freed,” said U Soe Htet, the Chin State Minister of Municipal Affairs, Electricity and Industry, according to Myanmar news outlet The Irrawaddy.
Sources told The Indian Express the Indian Embassy is monitoring the situation and will extend all necessary assistance to the Indian nationals and also arrange for repatriation of Gopal’s body.
The Arakan Army said they “are not against international investments” in Rakhine area and welcome projects which can benefit the local people.
During the meet in Bangkok, Prime Minister Modi conveyed to Suu Kyi India’s readiness to expand its socio-economic projects in Rakhine State, months after New Delhi implemented a housing project in the restive province.
He also emphasised that the speedy, safe and sustainable return of displaced people from Bangladesh to the Rakhine State was in the interests of the region, the displaced persons, and all three neighbouring countries — India, Bangladesh and Myanmar, the MEA said.
According to the MEA, Suu Kyi reaffirmed the importance her government attaches to the partnership with India and her appreciation of India’s consistent support for widening democracy and deepening development in Myanmar.