The bodies of five ethnic villagers have been exhumed from shallow graves in a field in Shan State’s Lashio Township nearly a week after they were arrested and detained by a Burmese army unit on suspicion of being rebels or rebel supporters.
The five men – three ethnic Ta’ang [Palaung] and two Shan – from the villages of Mangkit and Mangtat in the Mong Yaw village-tract, were taken away by Burmese soldiers on 25 June, according to Mon Yaw resident Sai Loifa.
He said the Burmese troops also shot and killed two individuals travelling on a motorcycle when they failed to stop promptly when ordered.
“Around 1:30pm last Saturday, while most villagers were working in the fields, a Burmese military column arrived in the area,” said Sai Loifa. They began stopping and searching vehicles. They opened fire on two people on a motorbike that failed to pull over.
“Then there was complete chaos as other troops from that unit thought a firefight had broken out, and they began shooting,” he said.
“After about 30 minutes the gunfire eased and the soldiers began rounding up about 50 villagers from the field, and started questioning them about rebel activities in the area. They then detained five young men and took them away [in a truck].”
He said the families of the five went to an area close to Burmese army Light Infantry Battalion 362 encampment on Wednesday, and found the bodies of their loved ones buried in shallow graves. The bodies were found dressed in military fatigues; however the families claim the men were in civilian clothing when they were arrested by the soldiers.
DVB correspondent Khun Zaw Oo was with the families as they dug up the bodies.
“The men were buried separately in two graves – two of them together in one spot, and the other three in another – on a hill beside a cornfield, about a mile from the entrance to Mong Yaw village-tract,” said Khun Zaw Oo.
He said two further bodies – badly decomposed but assumed to be those of the two individuals shot on their motorbike – were found nearby, dumped in an irrigation ditch by the side of the road.
“Two bodies – one male and one female –were discovered in a roadside ditch,” he said. “We could not recover the corpses because the stench was overwhelming.”
The villagers claim that there are no rebel groups operating in the area, apart from the Mangpan People’s Military Force. No official investigation has yet been launched into the deaths of the seven victims. Eyewitnesses said that the soldiers who detained the five villagers and shot the two motorcyclists belonged to Light Infantry Battalion 362, but DVB could not independently confirm this allegation.
Sai Loifa said the families of the five detained men reached out to the Burmese army earlier in the week, but were told that they had already been released.
Sai Wun Lai, an Upper House MP from the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy in Lashio, said this incident marked a sour turn of events at a time when the government was making efforts to build peace with local ethnic groups.
“We are all very saddened by this turn of events, he said. “We are calling for justice and legal action in accordance with the law.”
Sai Wun Lai added: “Those responsible for these killings must be punished.”