Four forestry department officials were shot to death in southern Shan State by a group of armed men on Saturday.
Deputy Pol-Supt Myat Min Soe of the Shan State police crime division said that six forestry officers were on their way back from inspecting confiscated timber in a village named Wansalaung when they were ambushed by five unknown men on the road between Langhko and Wanhatgyi.
Four officials – a district-level deputy forestry director and three township foresters – were killed in a hail of gunfire; however, two others survived.
“On 27 December, the officials were travelling in a Pajero SUV and two motorbikes on their way back from inspecting seized logs in Wansalaung when they were stopped by five armed men,” said Min Soe, citing a survivor’s account. “The men spoke briefly before the gunmen opened fire.”
He said that police found five M-22 bullet casings and one cartridge with three rounds remaining.
He said local police have opened an investigation into the incident.
While it was unclear who the attackers were, at least one anonymous source pointed a finger at “a certain armed group, which has apparently exploited their engagement in peace talks with the government by running illegal logging operations and assassinating those who pose a threat to their profits.”
According to a Shan State government administrator, the forestry officers had earlier seized 200 tons of illegally felled logs and were on their way back to check the haul. “We assume someone had a grudge,” he said.
Sai La, a spokesperson for the Shan State Army-South, said, “We have read reports accusing us of the killings, but actually there are also government forces and two local militias active in this region.
“While we are investigating internally, we suggest other groups do likewise. We have constantly instructed our troops – since the beginning of our engagement in nationwide ceasefire talks – to refrain from attacking government personnel, unless provoked.”