The Myanmar National Human Rights Commission has sent a survey team to investigate the shooting deaths early this month of seven civilians held in military custody in troubled Rakhine state’s Kyauk Tan village, where survivors continue to reject the army’s account of a riot by captured villagers.
The incident in Kyauktan on May 2 left six people dead and eight wounded, one of whom died on May 14. They were among 275 people rounded up and held in army custody in a school compound for interrogation about possible connections to the Arakan Army (AA), an ethnic armed group fighting national forces for greater autonomy in Rakhine state.
Soldiers and eyewitnesses have presented different accounts of what happened in the school compound.
The Myanmar military said its troops first fired warning shots into the air to disperse the group of detainees as they staged an attack during which they tried to grab soldiers’ guns, but had to shoot the men and boys as a last resort.
Eyewitnesses, however, have told RFA’s Myanmar Service that soldiers opened fire on the sleeping detainees after a mentally ill man held with them began shouting and ran off.
Members of National Human Rights Commission, led by Yu Lwin Aung and Myint Kyi visited Kyauk Tan village on Wednesday.
“This is very sensitive issue. We can’t tell you about the finding for now. I cannot share my individual perspective for now,” said Yu Lwin Aung.
The Commission members talked to eight villagers from Kyauk Tan who were arrested and charged by the military in a Rakhine police station. They also met the family members of the seven slain villagers and interviewed them in the company of three Rakhine State parliament members: Khin Saw Wai, Than Naing and Tin Maung Win.
Thein Win, uncle of Aung Lin Kyaw, a villager killed in the shooting, told RFA tat “justice has not been attained for my nephew and I wish to see those responsible punished.”
“I want an international organization such as the United Nations to pressure the government to take actions to find justice.”
The mother of Kyauk Tan villager Kyaw Nyein Aung, who was killed in the shooting, also told RFA she is not content with the handling of her son’s passing.
Army account rejected
Khin Saw Wai, Rakhine State parliament representative from Rathedaung Township said one of the villagers who was injured rejected the army account of the events on May 2.
“The injured shooting victim has been discharged from Sittwe Hospital and he showed us his injuries. He said it is not true that the detained villagers tried to grab guns from the guards,” he told RFA.
Khin Saw Wai quoted the villager as saying that “the shouting from a mentally disabled person triggered all the shooting.”
The commission members also interviewed eight soldiers who were present during the shooting.
“The Human Rights Commission member’s trip is assisted by the military. With regard to the findings form the commission, the military is ready to cooperate to show our intention to take accountability,” military spokesman Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun told RFA.
The commission’s visit to Rakhine came the same day that Amnesty International released a report titled “No One Can Protect Us: War Crimes and Abuses in Myanmar’s Rakhine State” that presents new evidence of abuses in the state since Clashes between Myanmar forces and the Arakan Army intensified earlier this year.
Amid the fighting, government forces have killed and injured civilians during indiscriminate attacks and carried out arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings, and torture, Amnesty said, raising the possibility that additional crimes are being committed in Rakhine.
Rakhine state saw a brutal military-led crackdown on Rohingya Muslims in 2017 that left thousands dead and prompted more than 740,000 Rohingya to flee to Bangladesh in what U.N. officials said amounted to ethnic cleansing and possible genocide.
“Less than two years since the world outrage over the mass atrocities committed against the Rohingya population, the Myanmar military is again committing horrific abuses against ethnic groups in Rakhine state,” said Nicholas Bequelin, Amnesty’s regional director for East and Southeast Asia, in a statement.
“The new operations in Rakhine state show an unrepentant, unreformed, and unaccountable military terrorizing civilians and committing widespread violations as a deliberate tactic,” he said.
According to RFA’s latest tally, 49 civilians have been killed and 85 others wounded in clashes in Rakhine and northern Chin states since the beginning of the year. Neither the Myanmar military nor the AA has issued accurate death tolls.
Reported by Aung Theinkha and Min Thein Aung for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Paul Eckert.