Religious freedom charity, International Christian Concern have confirmed the release of villagers on 1st August who were held for six months in a border camp, after soldiers took them from their community following a battle with government forces.
The Arakan Army (AA), an insurgent group that recruits from the mainly Buddhist ethnic Rakhine population and is fighting for greater autonomy for the state, abducted the Khumi villagers on 2nd February, 54 people were taken to the AA's base between the Myanmar and Bangladesh border.
While the AA claimed that it had "rescued" these villagers by helping them flee to safety, where the Burmese Army (Tatmadaw) has been carrying out an offensive against the AA, the villagers who escaped later denied this. The villagers said that they were taken against their will, and were used as human shields at one point when the Tatmadaw attacked with combat helicopters.
Fourteen of the villagers managed to escape the camp in the last few months, and one died while in AA custody.
Upon their release, the villagers were sent to community leaders in Ohnthee Wa village so they could be taken to an internally displaced persons (IDP) camp in Meezar.
Pastor Moses from the camp told Radio Free Asia that he was informed about the villagers' arrival in Ohnthee Wa, but that he had not yet met them. "They said they have come back, but they are still in Ohnthee Wa village," he said. "They said that all have been released. They will stay in Meezar where the IDP camp is."
Gina Goh, ICC's Regional Manager for Southeast Asia, said: "For the Chin captives who were held against their will for months, this is definitely encouraging news that they could finally return home. We rejoice with them and their loved ones. However, the AA should not have taken them in the first place. Civilians have the right to live without fear despite ongoing armed conflicts between the AA and Tatmadaw."
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