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As crowds gather in Myitkyina on Friday morning for the funeral of two schoolteachers who were found brutally murdered in northern Shan State, international and domestic calls for an investigation into the crime are mounting amid accusations that members of the Burmese army perpetrated the attack.
The mutilated bodies of Maran Lu Ra and Tangbau Khawn Nan Tsin, aged 20 and 21 respectively, were found in their hostel in the town of Pangsai in Muse District on Tuesday morning. The women were volunteer teachers with the Kachin Baptist Church organisation. They were killed within the church compound.
Burmese state media alluded to the murder on Friday, reporting: “Two female teachers were found dead of stab wounds and head injuries … on 20 January, reports said. The bodies … were found when students visited their house because the teachers had failed to take their morning classes. Neighbours said they heard screams coming from their house at around 1am and knocked on the door but received no respond from the young teachers … Collected from the crime scene were a bloodstained steel blade, a [piece of] firewood and other clues. Currently, the local government has formed a tribunal to investigate into the case in cooperation with a special investigation body.”
Some civil society groups have explicitly placed blame for the killings and alleged rape at the feet of the Burmese army. Reports have indicated that the 503rd Light Infantry Battalion was posted in the area with troops spending the night in question at the village.
The Kachin Women’s Association Thailand (KWAT) has formed a fact-finding mission and travelled to the area. Tin Tin Nyo of the Women’s League of Burma (WLB) told DVB that their visit made clear that the Burmese army were to blame, and that villagers are fearful of talking but that they “firmly believe it happened because of the Tatmadaw [Burma army].”
Widespread reports that the women were raped are as yet officially unconfirmed, but many groups say the attack demonstrates the enduring use of sexual aggression by armed forces.
“The latest murders show that, for all the rhetoric about reform, Burmese government troops continue to rape, torture and kill women and girls with impunity,” said Moon Nay Li of KWAT.
In a statement on Thursday, WLB said that the incident “is evidence of the Burma army’s continued use of sexual violence against ethnic civilians.”
The US Embassy in Rangoon also released a statement on 22 January. It said, “The brutal killing of these women is horrific. We have discussed the incident with the [Burmese] government and shared our profound concern.”
Amnesty International has called for an effective and impartial investigation into the deaths, placing the incident in the context of military impunity, saying, “Failure to investigate these allegations and hold those responsible to account would deny the victims and their families justice and contribute to an ongoing climate of impunity for rape and other crimes of sexual violence, in particular in conflict-affected and ethnic minority areas.”
Aid group Free Burma Rangers (FBR), who are active in the region, have also been direct in their accusation of the Tatmadaw. They said the women had worked with the Kachin Baptist Church “as volunteer missionaries to teach about God’s love”.
“On the night of 19 January, Burma Army troops came into the church ground where the girls were sleeping and raped and then beat them to death,” FBR said.
Christian Solidarity Worldwide has called on the Burmese government to “immediately stop its military offensives in ethnic areas and bring the perpetrators of sexual violence to justice.”
International calls for an investigation have emphasised that such measures must be comprehensive and transparant. The US Embassy said that, “We are encouraged by certain steps taken by authorities to start an inquiry, but continue to convey the urgency of a full transparent and credible investigation.”
Tin Tin Nyo of WLB told DVB that: “The government needs to accept our call to come up with an independent investigation team that is not a Burmese government team. It has to come from international experts on this kind of case. Also, people who work in human rights need to be part of it. If the government agree to this kind of demand, then it will bring the truth about the killing.”