Villagers flee Namhkam after alleged army threats

Villagers flee Namhkam after alleged army threats

A village in northern Shan State has been almost entirely evacuated following threats by the Burmese military, according to a local who claims he was tortured by soldiers in the village earlier this week.

Sai Hseng Saw, one of five people allegedly tortured during an interrogation, said that nearly all of the residents of Naungmata village in Namhkam fled out of fear that the Burmese military would burn down their homes.
Neither the township administrator nor the battalion’s commander were available for comment.

On Tuesday, the bodies of two missing Burmese soldiers — a captain and a corporal of the Burmese army’s 16th Battalion, 88th division — were found dead about half a mile away from Naungmata.

After the bodies were discovered, the battalion summoned the village chairman, secretary and three community leaders for interrogation. Sai Hseng Saw said that the five were brutally tortured over the course of 48 hours.

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“The battalion officers said that each of the dead soldiers’ lives was worth 100 of ours,” he said. “Then they threatened to burn down our village. They said they will shoot and kill women and children, and won’t even spare dogs.” 

He said that the five were beaten under the supervision of the battalion’s commander and deputy commander, and were eventually released at around 3am on 21 July.  

The officers made an appointment for additional interrogation sessions to resume after dawn, he said, but villagers had already begun fleeing the area the previous day.

Sai Tin Oo, an MP representing the Shan Nationalities Democratic Party (SNDP) in Namhkam, said that when the party learned of the interrogation they immediately contacted the 88th division commander, Col. Thet Tun Oo. Sai Tin Oo said that when the SNDP spoke with him on 30 July, the commander promised to halt the interrogation and prevent further abuse.

“The villagers called us for help so we made a request to the army division’s commander and the township administrator – the commander promised to prevent the beatings as much as he could,” he said.

Local residents estimate that the village has a population of about 500, most of whom have fled to villages near the border with China, where many of their relatives already reside.

The incident is the second murder case in the town in recent weeks; on 23 July, a young man was shot to death by unknown assailants in the town’s Naungzan ward.

Such cases are not uncommon in the area, which is highly militarised. Several armed groups are known to be active in the area, including Burmese government forces, Ta-ang National Liberation Army, Shan State Army-North and the Kachin Independence Army.

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