Three Burmese army servicemen under investigation for the death of five local villagers in northern Shan State’s Lashio Township in June have confessed to the killings at a military tribunal.
In a rare occurrence, the Burmese military allowed relatives of the slain villagers and their village chiefs to attend a tribunal hearing on Tuesday at which eight servicemen, including senior ranking officials, were questioned about their roles in the killings.
A family member of one of the victims said two sergeants and a corporal admitted to stabbing the villagers to death, but claimed they did so under orders after establishing that two of the five villagers they rounded up in the village tract of Mong Yaw had connections to Ta’ang rebels engaged in skirmishes against the Burmese army in the area. The two apparently had photos of themselves posing with firearms on their mobile phones.
“The soldiers who admitted to the killings said their unit established that two of the villagers were actually Ta’ang fighters, based on their photos and a notebook. They said they realised the other three were just civilians and didn’t want to kill them, but it had to be done as they were given order to ‘kill them all’, because these villagers all knew each other and letting some of them go could get the news out,” said the family member.
“They said they had to stab the detainees and put military fatigues on their bodies.”
A village elder who attended the hearing on Tuesday said it started at 9 am and went on until 6:30 pm. The servicemen under investigation, including a lieutenant colonel and a major, appeared at the hearing without their badges and insignias, he said.
The five villagers were detained by the government troops on suspicion of being rebel fighters in the last week of June. Their mutilated bodies, in combat clothing, were later found in mass graves outside of the village.
Two other individuals travelling by bike on a road where an army roadblock had been set up were also shot dead on 25 June. The army later claimed that drugs were found on the bodies of the two men. So far, there has been no tribunal or investigation into these killings.
Sai Wun Hlaing Kham, a Shan Nationalities League for Democracy MP for Lashio Township, said he welcomed the development, which he said showed that the Tatmadaw, or Burmese armed forces, is now thoroughly investigating wrongdoings by its servicemen, unlike in the past.
“We saw that the Tatmadaw thoroughly investigated the case. It was a good move that they questioned the suspects before the family members and local elders,” he said, adding that the soldiers would be charged with murder under Article 302 of the Penal Code.
“Since this has become a very high-profile case, we would like to call for transparency in the verdict and appropriate compensation to the families of the victims,” he added.