Suspicions surround death of Labadan orphan

Feb 29, 2008 (DVB), Police officers in Labadan township in Tharawaddy district, Bago division, have failed to investigate the suspicious death of a 16-year-old orphan, local residents claim.

Than Zaw Moe, a 16-year-old orphan in seven standard at Labadan township Basic Education High School (1), was last seen in a performance by his school marching band at a school funfair.

A Labadan resident said that he died on 12 February, but that police have done nothing to investigate the cause of his death.

"According to his orphanage, he died at around 2pm on 12 February," the resident said.

"I saw only a few people bring his body to a cemetery in another village at around 7pm – not more than four or five people, including those who carried the body."

The next day, a concerned person from a nearby ward did some investigation into the boy's death and told the police about their suspicions, the resident said.

"The ward officials and the whole town later found out about the boy's death and they uncovered the body," the resident explained.

"There were bruises on his neck and his tongue was sticking out, and there was a wound on the back of his neck that looked like he had been hit with something hard," he went on.

"It looked as though he had been choked and then slammed against a wall, so he had clearly not died of natural causes."

Township residents expected the authorities to open an investigation, but the police conducted only limited questioning and then dropped the case.

"The whole town has been complaining about it, and the teachers at the boy's school are very disappointed too," the Labadan resident said.

The resident said that the authorities never gave sufficient attention to cases reported by locals.

"Whenever a crime takes place, we don't know where to turn for help, because the authorities such as the police, the township chairman and the township Peace and Development Council never take it seriously," he said.

"And this boy was an orphan, so there is no one to file a proper complaint at the police station for him."

He explained that some local people had tried to file a complaint at the police station, but felt they were pressured into dropping the case and so they did not pursue it further.

An officer at Labadan police station said they had investigated the case, but would not proceed without a formal complaint.

"We have collected most of the evidence, and we will start working on the case as soon as someone files a formal report," the police officer said.

Residents have complained about the poor treatment of the children in the orphanage by its owner, and some have speculated that Than Zaw Moe was beaten by the owner when he came back late from the marching band performance.

"There are about 15 children at the orphanage, and the owner doesn't take proper care of them and even harasses them," the Labadan resident said.

"He provides no proper food for them, and even makes them do hard work for the orphanage such as cultivating farms and working in a brick-baking factory he also owns," he continued.

"He takes all the money received from the donors and no one ever checks up on whether he is spending this money for the benefit of the children. It's likely that the children at the orphanage know what happened to cause the boy's death, but they wouldn't dare to talk about it."

The owner of the orphanage was unavailable for comment.

Reporting by Naw Say Phaw

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