Insurgents in Myanmar's conflict-scarred Rakhine state have kidnapped three candidates from leader Aung San Suu Kyi's ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) in a daring operation weeks from national elections.
The Arakan Army, which fights for more autonomy for ethnic Rakhine Buddhists, has been engaged in bloody clashes with the Myanmar military since early 2019, and has carried out numerous raids and abductions.
But this is believed to be the first time they have seized candidates running with the NLD in the Nov. 8 poll.
The group said it abducted NLD members Min Aung, Ni Ni May Myint and Chit Chit Chaw on Oct. 14 at a campaign event in southern Rakhine state.
The group demanded the immediate release of detained student protesters in exchange for the candidates’ freedom.
The Arakan Student Union said four of its members were arrested on Monday following a protest criticizing the government that they staged in the Rakhine capital Sittwe.
They have also accused the ruling party, which is expected to return to power in the upcoming polls, of complicity "committing horrendous war crimes" against innocent civilians.
"We denounce and reject any act that can harm the free and fair election," NLD spokesperson Myo Nyunt told AFP.
The northern part of Rakhine was where hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims fled a Myanmar military assault in 2017. It spiralled into further instability with the rise of the Arakan Army two years later.
Myanmar's Union Election Commission announced it was cancelling voting in conflict areas including 11 townships in Rakhine state, saying the areas are not safe enough. But critics believe the move is an attempt to squash dissenting voices.
Suu Kyi's party is expected to comfortably win the vote, but by less of a margin than in 2015 when it dominated landmark elections after decades of junta rule.
It has decided to go ahead with the vote despite calls to postpone it over a worsening coronavirus outbreak.