Two Burmese Army officers who oversaw the beating of a Shan State village chief and community leaders during an interrogation over the deaths of two Burmese soldiers have been transferred out of the region, a community leader said.
Last Tuesday, the bodies of two Burmese Army soldiers belonging to the 88th Light Infantry Division’s (LID) 16th Battalion were found dead about half a mile away from Naungmata village in Shan State’s Namhkam. Upon this discovery, the battalion immediately summoned the village chairman, secretary and three community leaders for interrogation, during which the five were allegedly brutally tortured over the course of 48 hours.
Frightened villagers, many of whom fled the area in fear, informed the Shan Nationalities Democratic Party about this, and the party ordered the 16th Battalion officials to halt the interrogation.
Sai Hseng Wan, chairman of community group Namkham Development and Assistance Committee, said that the commander of the 88th LID informed him that the commander and deputy commander of the 16th Battalion — the two who supervised the interrogation — were demoted and transferred out of the region.
He added that Burmese Army officials, including 88th LID Commander Thet Naing Oo, met with local state officials, representatives from Shan parties and roughly 100 Naungmata villagers to inform them that the offending officers were disciplined. Thet Naing Oo also urged them to convince the rest of the villagers to return home, and said he wished to apologise to the five victims.
“The major phoned the committee’s secretary and said he would like to apologise to the five community leaders who were beaten up during the interrogation,” Sai Hseng Wan said, adding that Captain Thant Zin Tun, newly transferred to replace the disgraced battalion commander, promised that no such incident would ever happen again under his supervision.
The Naungmata residents present during Sunday’s meeting demanded that the army ensure that no armed group should be allowed to deploy units in their village. They also demanded that the five victims’ medical expenses be covered, and for the return of a motorbike that one of the slain soldiers had borrowed from a villager before his death.
The five are currently hospitalised across the border in China’s Ruili for their injuries sustained during the torture.
Sai Hseng Saw, a local school committee member and a victim of the beating, said he planned to seek advice on whether he should press charges against the battalion’s former commander.
“The Burmese Army are telling us to come back now, but I stressed to the party representatives who met with the army officials that those responsible for the beating should be held accountable and they should explain themselves before a court or a local tribunal,” said Sai Hseng Saw.
A lawyer based in Kachin State’s Myitkyina, Mahka — who provides legal assistance to local villagers in court cases — said that the army’s claim that the two battalion officers receiving disciplinary action should be treated with the utmost scepticisim as it is not confirmed.
“If the army really saw disciplinary action as they said, then it’s good news, but we can’t take it as a fact just because they said so,” said Mahka.
Sai Aung Win, a member of the Namhkam Township Development and Assistance Committee, also pointed out that disciplinary measures were only a short-term solution to a larger issue: With five different armed groups active in the northern Shan State town, locals are routinely made to suffer as collateral when conflicts break out between them and the Burmese Army, or even sometimes when disputes arise within the organisations.