UPDATED at 9:45 A.M. EST on 2016-1-17
The decapitated body of a Muslim man from a village in Myanmar’s volatile Maungdaw township where a deadly attack on border guard police occurred in early October was found floating in a river a day after he had spoken with reporters who visited the area, a Rakhine state government official said on Friday.
The dead villager, Shuna Mya, spoke to reporters who were on a government-guided visit to the area where some local residents alleged that atrocities had been committed by security forces that moved into northern Rakhine state to look for insurgents after the Oct. 9 attacks that left nine policemen killed.
Shuna Mya lived in Ngakhura village, where one of the attacks on three area border guard stations took place. He answered questions posed by reporters from independent media organizations who visited Maungdaw on Dec. 21. An RFA Myanmar Service report was on the trip and spoke to Shuna Mya.
Villagers said they saw a group of people go to his house around midnight on the same day, and that Ngakhuya had been missing since Thursday morning.
“We found Shuna Mya’s body today at 12:38 p.m.,” said Tin Maung Swe, secretary of the Rakhine state government. “He answered reporters’ questions on Dec. 21 and left his home at around 6 p.m. that evening and didn’t come back until morning.”
“Family members had been looking for him since around 7 a.m. on Dec. 22 and found his body without a head at noon,” he said.
Shuna Mya also met with the government’s Rakhine Investigation Commission during its visit to the area in mid-December to probe the behavior of the military during security operations in Muslim-majority areas amid accusations by Rohingya Muslims that soldiers had raped, tortured and killed villagers and burned down their homes.
“As he had no problems in the village, it seems he was killed because he answered reporters’ questions,” Tin Maung Swe said.
“Although we can’t say who exactly did it, it could be the Muslim insurgents who are living nearby in villages [under the guise of] villagers,” he said.
Also on Friday, Myanmar's State Counselor's Office issued a statement on Facebook that Shuna Mya had been decapitated after he told the media that the army committed no acts of rape or arson and did not make arbitrary arrests. The statement appeared with a photo of the dead man's body and a caption reading "truth teller beheaded."
So far, no arrests have been made in the case.
"Although we can't say exactly who did it, it could have been done by Muslim insurgents who are living in nearby villages as villagers." Tin Maung Swe said, suggesting that Shuna Mya was killed in retaliation for possibly denying that soldiers committed atrocities against Muslims.
The Myanmar government allowed a group of 13 selected journalists to tour the affected areas for three days this week following pressure from rights groups, Western countries, and the United Nations to let them look into accusations of atrocities against the stateless Rohingya.
The area has been under lockdown since the border guard station raids and subsequent violence between security forces and armed men that forced 27,000 Rohingya villagers to flee to neighboring Bangladesh.
The government has blamed the attacks on militant Rohingya, but denied that national soldiers have violated any regulations during the security operations.
One dead, three injured in Shan state
Meanwhile, the latest bout of fighting in Myanmar’s northern Shan state between two ethnic armed groups has left one woman dead and three others injured, villagers told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
The Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State Army (RCSS/SA) and Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) stopped fighting on Friday after three days of clashes in the town of Namtu, where one house was burned, a monastery in Mankyan town was damaged, and animals were killed, they said.
Some local villagers who previously fled the area have returned to their homes because troops from both sides are no longer there, residents said.
More than 1,800 others are staying in the town of Thibaw and more than 1,200 have sought shelter in monastery in Mansan village, but are in need of warm clothing and blankets, they said.
New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) urged Myanmar on Friday to protect civilians caught up in the fighting.
The group said the Myanmar military has committed “serious violations of the laws of war” in northern Shan state and neighboring Kachin state with summary executions, torture, forced labor, looting of civilian property, and indiscriminate firing into civilian areas, amounting to “apparent war crimes.”
The recent fighting in northern Shan state has displaced thousands of residents, many of whom have streamed across the border to China for refuge.
“While international attention has rightly focused on the crisis in Burma’s Rakhine state, expanded fighting in northern Burma has resulted in a spike in rights abuses and civilian displacement,” said Brad Adams, HRW’s Asia director.
“There is a critical need for the army and armed groups to end abuses and ensure civilian protection, especially for highly vulnerable villagers and displaced people close to the front lines,” he said.
The RCSS/SSA has also engaged in periodic skirmishes with the Myanmar army, the latest of which occurred on Dec. 16 near Shan state’s capital Taunggyi.
Fighting between the two ethnic militias broke out in late November 2015, about six weeks after the signing of the nationwide cease-fire agreement (NCA) between the government and eight of the country’s more than 20 ethnic armed groups.
The RCSS, the political organization that oversees the SSA, is a signatory to the NCA, but the TNLA is not.
After the RCSS signed the accord, Myanmar army forces teamed up with it and launched the offensive against the holdout TNLA in Shan state.
The TNLA formed a coalition called the Northern Alliance with three other ethnic armed groups and launched coordinated attacks on Nov. 20 on 10 government and military targets in the Muse township villages of Mong Ko and Pang Zai, the 105-mile border trade zone between Myanmar and China, and areas of Namhkam and Kutkai townships.
Reported by Min Thein Aung, Waiyan Moe Myint and Thin Thiri for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.