The President’s Office has rejected accusations that Burmese government troops have killed a number of civilians in Laogai during ongoing clashes with Kokang rebels since 9 February.
The response comes following comments by Myanmar Nationalities Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) spokesman Htun Myat Linn, who alleged that the Burmese army’s 33rd Light Infantry Division (LID) was responsible for the deaths of dozens of civilians on 14- 17 February.
“The Burmese army killed everyone regardless of sex or age. They killed more than 100 civilians,” the Kokang rebel spokesperson said.
Zaw Htay, director of the President’s Office, rejected the accusation as groundless.
“They were not innocent civilians,” he said on Friday. “Kokang rebels had infiltrated the town and were pretending to be civilians. Then they told the media that these people were civilians. You need to differentiate clearly. LID 33 soldiers did not shoot civilians, but may have shot those pretended to be civilians. They shoot only when there is strong evidence. So, I would like to categorically state that these accusations are untrue.”
The Burmese government has not released any details of civilian deaths, except when the Defence Ministry noted that two civilians were killed and six injured between 15- 17 February in Laogai [also spelt Laukkai].
An official from the Kokang Democracy and Solidarity Party said it was unclear which side was responsible for inflicting the civilian casualties.
“I heard some civilians were killed – more than 100 within these two days,” he told DVB by phone. “But nobody knows whether the gunfire came from one side or the other.”
Kachinland News, a local news source with close links to the Kachin Independence Army, reported on Friday that more than 100 civilians were killed in what it called “a Burmese army rampage in Laogai.”
It claimed government troops were firing indiscriminately at civilians and quoted MNDAA spokesman Htun Myat Linn saying the oldest casualty was over 80 years of age and the youngest just 11.
DVB reporter Hkun Zaw Oo, who had visited Laogai before being part of a Red Cross convoy that sustained gunfire while transporting refugees, said that he witnessed a number of killings and dead bodies in civilian clothes lying in the streets of the town.
“I saw people killed in the streets. I saw three shot down before my very own eyes,” he said. “According to some people around the town, 17 civilians were killed around noon on Tuesday.”
Myanmar National Human Rights Commission secretary Sitt Myaing called upon both sides to avoid firing upon civilians. “Civilians are the main victims in armed conflicts. Both armed groups should be careful and avoid this. They should think about the innocent civilians when they are planning strategy.”
The UN has urged all groups concerned to reduce tensions in the Kokang area of northeastern Shan State and avoid civilian casualties.