Right Groups Demand Probes Into Enforced Disappearances, Killings of Myanmar Ethnic Minorities

By Roseanne Gerin
myanmar-kachin-refugee-family-waimaw-township-jan21-2017.jpg An ethnic Kachin refugee family eats near Lung Byeng village, Waimaw township, in northern Myanmar's Kachin state, Jan. 21, 2017.

Two international rights groups on Monday demanded investigations into incidents involving the enforced disappearances and killings of ethnic Kachin and Karenni men by Myanmar’s military, which has already come under heavy fire by the international community for allegedly committing atrocities against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar.

Fortify Rights called for an investigation of the whereabouts of ethnic Kachin civilians Hpaugan Yaw, 65, and Nhkum Naw San, 35, who were arrested by soldiers on Jan. 31 as they farmed a field near Hkat Pra village in Mansi township.

“The authorities have a responsibility to urgently account for the whereabouts and well-being of these two men,” said Matthew Smith, chief executive officers of Fortify Rights, in a statement. “More than two weeks have passed since the military detained them, and the authorities have blocked attempts to locate them, raising grave concerns.”

Two eyewitnesses told Fortify Rights that they saw the two men in the custody of Myanmar soldiers with their hands tied behind their backs.

The troops had dressed Nhkum Naw San, whose face was bruised and swollen, in the uniform of a Kachin Independence Army (KIA) soldier, and attempted to put an ill-fitting uniform on Hpaugan Yaw, said the witnesses, who were delayed while returning to their village and were questioned by the troops.

Government troops have regularly clashed with the KIA, which controls large swathes of territory in the state, since a 17-year bilateral cease-fire agreement collapsed in 2011. The clashes have left hundreds dead and more than 100,000 displaced since that conflict resumed in June 2011 and later spread to neighboring northern Shan state.

The witnesses also said they saw soldiers with guns leading Hpaugan Yaw up a hill where some troops said he should be killed for being a “disturbance.” They reported hearing two gunshots after they were released and instructed to return to their village using a different route.

The men — who haven’t been seen or heard from since that day — and their families lived in the Maing Hkawng displaced persons camp after armed conflict in the state forced them to flee their homes, Amnesty International said.

Camp officials met with members of the Myanmar Army’s Light Infantry Battalion 602 stationed in Maing Hkawng on Feb. 1 to ask permission to search for the two missing men, but their request was denied. Soldiers also blocked the road between the camp and Hkat Pra village and imposed an 8 p.m. curfew, the group's statement said.

Three days later, the families of the two Kachin men filed missing persons reports at the Mansi township police station, it said.

This is not the first incident of apparent killings of ethnic Kachins by Myanmar soldiers. In May 2017, six troops murdered three residents of the Maing Hkawng camp as they gathered firewood in a forest. In January, a military tribunal sentenced the soldiers to 10 years in prison.

“There’s a history of abuse by the Myanmar military in this area,” Smith said in the statement. “Authorities should be doing everything in their power to locate these men and not obstruct efforts to find them.”

“The military is terrorizing civilians in Kachin state,” he said. “The government needs to ensure that those responsible for enforced disappearances will be held accountable.”

Killing of four Karenni

Meanwhile, London-based Amnesty International on Monday called for an independent investigation into the killing of four ethnic Karenni men by Myanmar soldiers in December.

Myanmar army soldiers detained and killed a civilian and three members of the Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP), the political wing of the ethnic Karenni army, on Dec. 20 when they raided a Karenni army base in Loikaw township in eastern Myanmar’s Kayah state. A fifth man who was also held managed to escape.

The previous day, Karenni troops had checked Myanmar army vehicles allegedly transporting illegal timber. Though the KNPP soldiers allowed the vehicles to pass, Myanmar soldiers from the Regional Operation Command in Loikaw went to the Karenni army base later that night and killed the four the following morning, according to a statement issued by the armed ethnic group.

Myanmar Army personnel took the bodies back to their base and burned them.

“The current military investigation into the deaths cannot be considered to be credible and is unlikely to deliver truth and justice,” a statement issued by Amnesty International said. “Failure to hold those responsible to account before independent civilian courts would further entrench a climate of impunity in the county.”

The killings prompted a small peaceful protest in Loikaw on Dec. 22 to demand justice for the victims, but five organizers from the union of Karenni State Youth and the Karenni State Farmers Union were charged with violating peaceful assembly and procession laws, Amnesty International said. They were later found guilty and ordered to pay fines or serve 20 days in prison.

“The case takes place in a wider context of allegations of human rights violations — including extrajudicial executions and other unlawful killings — by the Myanmar military, in particular in ethnic minority areas,” the statement said. “Investigations into such allegations are rare and suspected perpetrators are seldom held to account, contributing to a culture of impunity in the country.”

The calls by the rights groups come as Myanmar’s civilian government led by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi grapples with ongoing hostilities between various ethnic armed groups and the government military, and continues to be slammed by the international community over violence directed against Rohingya Muslims during an army crackdown in Rakhine state that began in August.

Meanwhile, the government is trying to pull together the third round of nationwide peace talks — a key peace initiative spearheaded by Aung San Suu Kyi to try to end decades of civil wars between ethnic militias and the Myanmar army.


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