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Man arrested after launching balloon for Arakan Army leader’s birthday

A photo purports to show a man stands in front of the offending balloon honouring the leader of the Arakan Army.

A man who launched a hot-air balloon to celebrate the 39th birthday of Brigadier-General Tun Myat Naing, leader of the Arakan Army, was arrested over the weekend and charged with “unlawful association” in the latest case involving the controversial colonial-era law.

“[The Arakan Army] has been declared an unlawful association. The man launched a fire balloon that had ‘Happy Birthday General’ written on it. He stuck photos [of the brigadier-general] on the balloon,” said Police Lieutenant Kyaw Zaw of the Kyaukphyu Myoma police station in Rakhine State. “Charges were pressed against him under 17[1] and he was arrested on 11 November.”

The accused man, facing charges under the Unlawful Association Act’s section 17(1), has been identified as Hla Tun Kyaw, a resident of Late Kha Maw village in Kyaukphyu Township, Rakhine State.

A post on a Facebook page widely associated with the Arakan Army appeared to mark 7 November as the birthday of Twan Mrat Nai, an alternative spelling for Tun Myat Naing apparently preferred by the group, or at least its social media minder.

Arakan Army soldiers were accused of killing at least one civilian as they fired upon a boat on the Kaladan River in Chin State last week, an attack in which the ethnic armed group purportedly mistook the vessel’s passengers for Burmese soldiers. Other local reports said several government troops were also killed in recent hostilities between the two sides.

More than 300 residents of the affected area have fled to Chin Let Wa village due to the clashes this month between the Arakan Army and Burma’s military.

The latest hostilities have flared after a relatively lengthy détente between the Burmese military, also known as the Tatmadaw, and Arakan Army forces.

Section 17(1) of the Unlawful Association Act lays out punishment of up to three years in prison for “whoever is a member of an unlawful association, or takes part in meetings of any such association, or contributes or receives or solicits any contribution for the purpose of any such association or in any way assists the operations of any such association.”

In one of the most high-profile recent “unlawful association” cases to go before the courts, three journalists — including two from DVB — were arrested after returning from a drug-burning event organised by another ethnic armed group, the Ta’ang National Liberation Army, in late June. They were ultimately released after the military plaintiff in the case dropped the charges against the men.