Ex-Rohingya MP arrested in Yangon, stoking fears of escalation in attacks
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Ex-Rohingya MP arrested in Yangon, stoking fears of escalation in attacks

A PROMINENT former Rohingya member of parliament has been arrested in the capital, sparking fears of an escalation of attacks on the persecuted Rohingya Muslim minority.

Aung Zaw Win was arrested at Yangon airport on Wednesday after on suspicion of financing Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), the Rohingya militant group blamed by the military for terrorist attacks in Rakhine State.

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Business man and former MP, Aung Zaw Win. Source: Twitter

According to the Guardian, the property tycoon and former MP for the Union Solidarity and Development party remains in custody in Mingaladon police station where, despite being held for five days, he is yet to be questioned by police.

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The arrest has sparked concern that the military crackdown on the Rohingya community is now extending beyond Rakhine State and targeting those in Burma’s cities.

“The government and military [is] sending a signal to all of the Rohingya living and working in Yangon that they are also under threat, that they want to destroy the whole Rohingya community, not just those in Rakhine,” Rohingya activist Nay San Lwin told the Guardian.

Almost 700,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled Rakhine state since August 2017 when Burma’s army started so-called “clearance operations” against ARSA. The United Nations has called the attacks a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”

One news blogger Aung Aung, claims staff in Zaw Win’s offices are aware of government plans to target Rohingya business people and politicians in Yangon and Mandalay, however, this has not been verified.

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Rohingya refugees stand in a queue to collect aid supplies in Kutupalong refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, on Jan 21, 2018. Source: Reuters/Mohammad Ponir Hossain

Zaw Win, who acted as MP for Maungdaw in Rakhine until 2015, was a divisive figure in the Rohingya community, fuelling doubt over his alleged funding of the ARSA. He is well known among the military circles, working in partnership with several generals to build his property empire.

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During his time as an MP, he also backed the proposal for the Rohingya community to accept a Bengali identity, reinforcing the widely believed premise in Burma that they are not native to the country.

As one of Yangon’s most prominent and successful Rohingya business people, Zaw Win’s arrest is being seen as “a clear threat to all the Rohingya in Yangon.”

“No one is safe from arrest, even if you have big business or are close links to the military,” Nay San Lwin said.

Mark Farmaner, director of Burma Campaign UK told the Guardian: “It’s extremely worrying that he has been arrested like this. This is just how the old military dictatorship acted.”

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