Human rights groups called on Myanmar authorities on Tuesday to provide information about two Kachin Christian leaders they fear have been forcibly “disappeared” in northern Shan state for taking reporters to a Catholic church allegedly damaged by airstrikes in clashes between the government army and ethnic guerillas.
New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW), Southeast Asia-based Fortify Rights, and London-based Amnesty International want authorities to disclose the whereabouts and conditions of Langjaw Gam Seng, 35, and his cousin Dum Daw Nawng Lat, 65, both of whom have been missing since Dec. 24, 2016, when they were heading to a military base.
HRW and Fortify Rights also called on authorities to allow Yanghee Lee, the United Nations human rights envoy for Myanmar, and other rights monitors to visit conflict zones in Shan state. Lee, who is currently on a 12-day visit to Myanmar, has been denied access to violence-affected areas in Shan state.
Langjaw Gam Seng is a youth leader with the Kachin Baptist Convention (KBC) in the town of Mong Ko in northern Shan state, and Dumdaw Nawng Lat, is an assistant pastor with the KBC, according to statements issued on Tuesday by HRW and Fortify Rights.
The Baptist-denominated evangelical organization headquartered in Myitkyina, Kachin state, has been helping internally displaced people who have fled fighting between the government army and ethnic militias in both Kachin and Shan states.
Someone claiming to be a member of Myanmar’s armed forces called Langjaw Gam Seng on the evening of Dec. 24 and requested that he and Dumdaw Nawng Lat go to the Byuha Gon military base in the town of Mong Ko in Muse township near the border with China to help with the release of detained civilians, according to the press releases.
Local residents reported last seeing the two men, who were helping reporters document the destruction of civilian structures in Mong Ko during hostilities between a coalition of four ethnic armies and government forces last in November and December, traveling by motorbike to the base where Myanmar army battalion numbers 99 and 55 are located, the statements said.
“The apparent enforced disappearance of these two Christian leaders has created a climate of fear and terror in northern Shan state,” said Matthew Smith, chief executive of Fortify Rights.
HRW and Fortify Rights noted that civil society organizations in Kachin and Shan states “have documented unlawful killings, torture, rape, forced labor, and other abuses committed by Burmese military forces against civilians” in the two states.
Amnesty International weighs in
In a separate statement, Amnesty International urged people to write to Myanmar authorities to order an immediate investigation into the men’s disappearances, to release them if they are in custody, and to stop violating international human rights law against ethnic civilians in conflict and cease-fire areas.
“The nature of the two men’s disappearance means the military has some serious questions to answer,” said Phil Robertson, HRW’s deputy Asia director. “This is a crucial case for [Myanmar’s de factor leader] Aung San Suu Kyi and other government leaders to demand cooperation from the army, which has continued to resist civilian authority.”
The two men’s family members and KBC representatives filed a missing persons report at Myo Ma police station in Muse township on Jan. 3.
Seven days later, Zaw Htay, spokesman of the President’s Office, said that a ground report from the government army indicated the pair had been arrested by the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), which is engaged in hostilities with Myanmar soldiers in northern Shan state.
Armed conflicts in Kachin and Shan states intensified last November when the Northern Alliance of four ethnic militias—the KIA, Arakan Army (AA), Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), and Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA)—launched coordinated attacks on government and military targets in northern Shan state.
The government has reported that 10 civilians have died in ground and air strikes, while thousands of others have fled over the border into southwestern China.
The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimates that the fighting in Kachin and Shan states has displaced more than 100,000 people.
More civilians flee
Meanwhile, more than 100 people have fled the town of Namhsan in Tawngpeng district, northern Shan state, on Tuesday to the central city of Mandalay to escape ongoing fighting between TNLA troops and the government army, a Mandalay official said.
Win Naing Zaw said 113 people from 32 households have sought refuge in the Myinwun Mingyi monastery in Myanmar’s second-largest city.
“As far as I know, 93 people arrived first, and then 20 people from five households arrived yesterday,” Win Naing Zaw, Mandalay district administrator, told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
“CSOs and the regional military headquarters helped them yesterday by providing rice, cooking oil, clothing, mosquito nets, blankets, and other goods they need,” he said.
Altogether, more than 2,000 people have fled to Mandalay and the towns of Lashio, Kyaukme, Thibaw, Naungcho, and Pyin Oo Lwin to escape the clashes that have killed two people and injured 10 others, he said.
Reported by Thiri Min Zin for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.