By Than Naing Soe
Nineteen members of a gang accused of stopping and robbing vessels on the Ayeyarwady River have been arrested south of Mandalay, say regional police.
The group’s acts earned it the name “Ayeyarwady Somali”, a reference to the Somali pirates that prowl the Indian Ocean. Its notoriety quickly attracted the attention of regional police, who managed to arrest members of the group near Amarapura township’s Shangalay Kyun village on March 7. Ten men and nine women were taken into custody.
The group generally operated between midnight and 5am, police said, using boats equipped with Honda outboard motors to overtake and stop vessels on the river. The small security contingents on the vessels were generally no match for the gang, whose members hid during the day in secluded, forested areas along the riverbank. Following a lengthy investigation, police identified two hideouts: one on a stretch of riverbank near Sintebo monastery, northwest of Shangalay Kyun, and another on a nearby sandbank.
More than 100 police officers took part in the raid on the hideouts. Those arrested have been charged with theft.
“The operation was the result of collaboration between district police forces from Mandalay, Kyaukse and Sagaing,” said Police Major Khin Aung from Mandalay Region police force said.
Police are still searching for some gang members who are believed to be at large. Nevertheless, the arrests has brought relief to panic-stricken vessel owners.
“While the gang was at large we dared not speak out even when we saw them stealing our neighbour’s boat,” said the owner of a vessel running between Mandalay and Htigaing. “If we told someone, the next day they would put a hole in the bottom of our boat.” – Translation by Thiri Min Htun