The murders of seven innocent villagers in Shan State last month and the impunity of the Burmese military cannot be swept under the carpet, says Shan human rights advocates in a statement released yesterday.
Following an exhaustive compilation of interviews with local witnesses, the Shan Human Rights Foundation (SHRF) said it is calling for an official investigation into the murders of seven villagers in Mong Yaw village, Lashio District.
Five of the deceased have been identified as Sai Ai Hsai, Sai Ai Maung, Sai Ai Lord, Naw Tint and Sai Hla. Two other locals were reportedly killed when soldiers shot at them for failing to stop on their motorcycle at an army checkpoint.
“ … This case has become more silent, but we would like the government to take bigger action,” said SHRF’s Sai Hor Hseng.
On 25 June, about 100 Burmese troops from Light Infantry Battalion 362 arrived at the village of Mong Yaw and stopped the traffic about 10 kilometres west of the village. Drivers were asked if they had seen any Shan soldiers, and if so, if they had guns. According to interviews with eyewitnesses, two persons on a motorcycle were shot dead when they did not stop for the soldiers.
Hearing the gunfire, other Burmese troops further along the road also began firing shots into the air and firing mortar shells, according to the SHRF statement. A drone with a camera was then launched by the Burmese soldiers to see if there were any ethnic armed groups in the area.
“This is the first time the use of drones has been reported to us, said Sai Hor Hseng. “However other groups say the military has been using them for a long time.”
The soldiers were then seen entering the surrounding fields and arresting villagers who were farming.
One woman who was arrested described watching one of the victims who was interrogated by the soldiers: “Ai Maung said he didn’t understand Burmese, as he was Ta’ang.” She said the soldiers then beat him with their rifle butts and tied up his hands.
At about 7.30pm, those detained at the roadblock were freed — except for five villagers who were last seen alive being led by the Burmese soldiers up a hill towards Loi Bu.
That night, relatives of the five detained villagers reported the case to the Mong Yaw township authorities but were told “it was getting dark”. The families did not want to search for their loved ones for fear of the Burmese soldiers, said the wife of one of the missing villagers.
On June 29, the villagers found the bodies of the five missing men.
Relatives of the deceased, together with an MP from the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy, then reportedly met with the deputy police chief of No. 2 police station in Lashio, who accepted the case.
Initially, the Burmese army denied responsibility for the killings. On 2 July, the Burmese military-owned Myawaddy newspaper reported that the seven bodies were found after government forces had been attacked by ethnic rebels. The report claimed that two corpses were found with a large sum of money and methamphetamine pills, and that the other five corpses were found with weapons.
The military stance on the murder case shifted on 3 July when Maj-Gen Kyaw Kyaw Soe, the Northeastern Deputy Regional commander from Lashio, visited Mon Yaw and gave each victim’s family 300,000 Kyats (US$255), but said it wasn’t “compensation” but instead a “personal donation out of pity.”
“They would also like to cover up this case and make it silent,” said Sai Hor Seng.
SHRF says it is urgently calling on the NLD-led government to take action and bring the perpetrators of these crimes to justice. They are also calling for the military-drafted constitution of 2008 to be reformed and the removal of the legislature which reserves 25 percent of the seats in all houses for unelected military representatives.
Sai Hor Seng said, “Unless the constitution changes and they remove the military personnel from on top of the ruling system, we won’t see democracy, we won’t see any real change.”