Seven Myanmar army soldiers on trial at a military court in the volatile northern part of Myanmar’s Shan state have admitted to playing a part in the killing of five unarmed civilians, according to local residents who were permitted to attend the proceedings.
The trial of the military officers and low-ranking soldiers from Light Infantry Battalion 362 began on Tuesday at a nearby military base in Lashio township.
“The soldiers admitted that they killed the villagers, and military officers admitted that they ordered soldiers to kill them,” said Sai Kaung Kham, a Mong Yaw resident who served as a translator during the trial.
The soldiers belong to the Myanmar army battalion, which arrived on June 25 in Long Mon village near the subtownship of Mong Yaw looking for armed ethnic troops.
They shot dead five villagers during an interrogation near a cornfield where some of them were working and dumped their bodies in shallow graves.
They also deposited the bodies of two young men they shot who were passing through the area on motorbikes and failed to stop at a checkpoint, and later claimed that the men had belonged to the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA).
On June 30, villagers discovered the corpses of the seven men, who were all from the Shan or Palaung (Ta’ang) ethnic minority groups that live in the state.
During the court martial, the soldiers who killed the five villagers said they informed their commanding officers when they arrested them, and the officers issued the command to kill them, the villagers who attended the court proceedings said.
“We came here to listen to how they killed the villagers,” said village administrator Kyaw Aye. “They said two sergeants and one soldier killed them.”
At first, denial
Some of the locals who attended the hearing were family members of those killed, but they were not asked to speak during the daylong proceedings, the online journal The Irrawaddy reported.
Court administrators paid the villagers 5,000 kyats (U.S. $4.15) each and gave them either a shirt or blouse to compensate them for losing a day’s work while they attended the court martial, said one female villager who declined to be named.
The army had initially denied any involvement in the deaths, but a deputy regional commander visited the families of the five victims in early July and gave each a “donation” of 300,000 kyats (U.S. $257).
Later that month, Myanmar’s intelligence chief Mya Tun Oo publicly admitted that government troops had killed five of the seven men and said those responsible would be prosecuted.
Lashio township authorities exhumed all seen bodies earlier this week, and police there have said they have started their own murder investigation, The Irrawaddy reported.
Reported by Ko Kan Thar for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.