Residents in the Kachin State jade mining town of Hpakant are taking steps to protect themselves by forming neighbourhood watchdog groups in the wake of two unsolved murders last week .
Hpakant’s upper house representative Khin Maung Myint said that locals are taking the initiative after two ethnic Red Shan men – one a schoolteacher who was abducted in broad daylight – were founded shot dead within 24 hours of each other. He said murder has become all too common nowadays in the town, which is virtually lawless.
“We think that forming watchdog groups with up to 50 people from each neighbourhood or village can somehow assist the government’s commitment to tackle the situation,” he said, adding that the watchdog groups will include politicians, government officials and members of the public.
Several Hpakant residents have blamed the sense of lawlessness in the town on the ongoing conflict between Burmese government forces and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA). The KIA is one of four ethnic militias, collectively known as the Northern Alliance, which is engaged in ongoing clashes against the Burmese military in Kachin and northern Shan states.
They say that another contributing factor is the uncontrolled jade mining industry, which attracts thousands of migrants hoping to get lucky, and which has spawned a sub-culture of drug addiction, gambling, prostitution and other underground activities.
Various ethnic armed groups active in the area, including the KIA, have denied responsibility for the murder of the teacher, Kyaw Zin Htun. He was apparently executed by unknown assailants less than 24 hours after the murder of a jade scavenger in a similar fashion. Both the victims belonged to the Tai Leng, or “Red Shan” ethnic group that often accuses the KIA of human rights violations against their population.
MP Khin Maung Myint pointed out that a Burmese army division, comprised of 10 battalions, is based in the region, in addition to four police battalions. He said it is “inexcusable” that such cold-blooded murders could be committed in broad daylight despite such a large security presence in the town.
On Sunday morning, around 30 schoolteachers led by the Hpakant Teachers Union staged a rally in the town denouncing Kyaw Zin Htun’s killing, while demanding justice in the case and better security for teachers.
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