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An ethnic Tai-Leng, or “Red Shan,” schoolteacher was reportedly shot dead by unknown assailants on Wednesday, less than 24 hours after the murder of a fellow Red Shan man in similar fashion, both in the Kachin State jade mining township of Hpakant.
Kyaw Zin Htun, the teacher at a middle school in Namtmahpyit village, about one mile outside of Hpakant town, was picked up by three men on motorbikes during a flag salute ceremony in the school courtyard on Wednesday morning. His body, with two gunshot wounds to the head, was found shortly after at a mining dumpsite less than a mile from the school, according to the National League for Democracy’s Lower House MP for Hpakant Township, Tin Soe.
“He was picked up during the flag salute by three men on motorbikes who told the school’s headmistress that their ‘superiors’ wanted to have a quick word with him. Shortly afterward, another teacher at the school decided to follow in the direction they went and found his body just across Uru Creek, less than a mile from the school,” said Tin Soe.
“He was shot in the head twice and appears to have died on the spot.”
The 27-year-old schoolteacher was a native of Hopin village in Kachin State’s Mohnyin town and was said to have been actively involved in social work.
Local Red Shan people said they believed he was murdered by the Kachin Independence Army ethnic armed group, which they often accuse of committing human rights abuses against the Red Shan population. Members of the local Red Shan community believe Kyaw Zin Htun was killed because he struck some students — presumably of ethnic Kachin lineage — as punishment after they were truant on Kachin State Day, with their apparently disappointed parents reporting the incident to the KIA. Kachin State Day was observed in the town on 10 January.
Major Tang Seng, commander of the KIA 2nd Brigade’s 6th Battalion, denied those allegations.
“We absolutely deny the allegations,” he said. “Murders are fairly common in Hpakant over business issues and such. We do not terrorise the local public — we have heard of an incident at Namtmahpyit but we would never kill a teacher of our children. We are not responsible for the murder.”
“Some people in the area who despise the KIA always point the finger at us whenever there is a murder in the area, with the intention of creating hostilities between us and government forces,” Tang Seng added.
Less than 24 hours prior to Kyaw Zin Htun’s death, on Tuesday evening, a Red Shan man in the village-tract of Lawng Hkang, also in Hpakant Township, was shot in the head by unknown assailants just outside his home.
A local resident told DVB the victim, Maung Toe, aged around 40, was a jade scavenger and member of the Tai-Leng Nationalities Development Party.
“I went to look at his body at the morgue — I saw three gunshot wounds in the head. He was apparently at home when two men came on a motorbike and shot him for unknown reasons,” said the resident.
Police in Hpakant were not available for comment. However, the Tai-Leng Nationalities Development Party’s deputy chairman, Maung Maung Htet, claimed the KIA murdered Maung Toe over an altercation that took place about a month ago.
“He was sorting stones when two masked men came on a motorbike. His wife said they instructed him to sit on the ground and shot him in the head,” said Maung Maung Htet.
“About a month ago, a jade scavenger who worked with Ko [Maung] Toe was shot in the leg by a KIA member, and he and other scavengers at the scene apprehended that KIA member. We assume there could be a connection. Regardless, it is alarming that Red Shan people are often getting murdered here.”
In the last year, two other Red Shan men were also murdered by unknown assailants. Their cases remain unsolved.
In a separate incident this week, a woman scavenging for looked-over jade stones at a mining dump site was killed when a rock fell on her head. Her death, on Tuesday, is a more common occurrence in Hpakant, where the frenzied pursuit of jade has posed serious challenges to the establishment of rule of law in the township.