Thailand will delay the deportation of the wife and children of the top commander of the Arakan Army insurgent group that is fighting Myanmar's army while authorities carry out a full investigation, Thai officials said on Sunday.
Hnin Zar Phyu, 38, the wife of Major General Tun Myat Naing, 41, their 11-year-old daughter and 11-month-old son were arrested in northern Thailand last Wednesday and charged with illegal entry after Myanmar revoked their passports.
The arrests prompted a barrage of pressure on Thailand from rights groups concerned that the family could be forced back to Myanmar in what has been an increasing pattern by Southeast Asian states to send home each other's dissidents. "Right now we are in the investigation phase," Thai police deputy spokesman Krisana Pattanacharoen told Reuters.
"Whether that will lead to deportation or not, there are processes in determining if they are wanted by another country and why, but we are not at that stage yet," he said. Hnin Zar Phyu and Saw Pyae Shun, 11, and Myat Lin Zan, aged 11 months, had been sent to an immigration detention centre in Bangkok, he said.
Tun Myat Naing is the top commander of the Arakan Army that is fighting for greater autonomy for Rakhine state, which caught global attention after more than 730,000 Rohingya Muslims fled a crackdown by Myanmar's military in 2017. Tens of thousands of people have fled clashes this year between Myanmar's army and the Arakan Army, an ethnic armed group that recruits mostly from Rakhine's Buddhist majority and is branded a terrorist group by the government.
Rights groups have called on the Thai government to prevent a forced return of Hnin Zar Phyu and her children to Myanmar and raised the option of resettlement in another country. "International pressure can mean the difference between freedom and persecution in a Myanmar jail cell. It's crucial that a government step forward and welcome all three for resettlement," Matthew Smith, executive director of Fortify Rights, told Reuters.
In July, Singapore authorities arrested and deported a group of Myanmar nationals with links to the Arakan Army, saying their activities caused "security concerns".