Five days after the Myanmar army arrested three ethnic Palaung men and 11 Shan villagers working in a cornfield near Lashio township in conflict-ridden northern Shan state, five of them turned up in shallow graves along with two other identified locals on Thursday, RFA’s Myanmar Service has learned.
Government soldiers detained the six women and five men on June 25 in Long Mon village near the sub-township of Mong Yaw where fighting erupted that day between the military and armed ethnic soldiers. They later released all the women and three of the men, local villagers told RFA.
“They arrested and took us away, and later separated us along the way,” one of the released women told RFA through an interpreter. “We had to keep our heads down, and we were not allowed to look at their faces.
Those who were released notified lawmakers and civil society organizations (CSOs) about what had happened to them, villagers said.
They also reported the incident to local police, who declined to look into the incident since the powerful Myanmar military was involved, they said.
The police declined to provide information to CSOs and reporters who inquired about the incident.
The same day that soldiers detained the villagers, police arrested three Palaung men who arrived at the cornfield on motorbikes to pick up relatives who were working there, residents said.
Local residents reported to the CSOs that they had heard gunshots in the vicinity, said Than Than Aye, chairwoman of northern Shan state’s CSO Network who went to the area.
“The shooting occurred around 3.30 p.m.,” said one of released men. “We are sure it was the Myanmar army. During the interrogation, they asked us, ‘Did you see the rebels? Did you see armed men?’ We told them we hadn’t.”
Wait until morning
Some of the victims' relatives asked village authorities to do something, but they said they could do nothing,” said Mya Yin, the aunt of one of the Palaung victims who was killed.
“They thought the soldiers might beat them while they are angry, so they told us to wait until the next morning," she said.
Five days later, villagers found seven corpses in three shallow graves—the corpses of the three men who had been on motorbikes in one, the bodies of two men from the cornfield in the second, and the bodies of an unidentified man and woman who had passed along the road beside the cornfield in the third.
“We were told that three bodies were interred in a hole in the ground, and two others in another hole,” said Than Than Aye, adding that locals said the victims were members of the Palaung and Shan ethnic groups.
“Their hands were tied behind their backs,” she told RFA. “We saw the rope they were tied with near their bodies.”
“We saw two other bodies—a man and a woman who were interred together in a hole on the opposite side of the road, but we haven’t yet identified who they are,” Than Than Aye said.
“As a CSO, we object to and condemn any killings or executions by any group," she said. "We cannot accept any armed groups killing unarmed civilians.”
Soldiers open fire
A Myanmar army unit from Lashio entered Long Mon village in about five trucks on June 25 and suddenly opened fire near the cornfields, injuring three female villagers who were taken to a hospital in Mong Yaw, Myanmar’s Shan Herald Agency for News (SHAN) reported, citing a resident who requested anonymity.
The troops then unloaded their guns and began stopping and questioning drivers who passed, shooting one man dead at the checkpoint, the report said.
As farmers ran for cover, the army allegedly told them to line up by the side of the road for questioning and they took five into custody—Aik Hseng, 23; Aik Lod, 39; Aik Maung, 27; Sai Mon Awn, 17; and Sai Aik Maung, 23, it said.
The source told SHAN that the army later denied arresting the villagers, though soldiers claimed to have released all of them.
Of the ethnic armies that operate in the area, the Manpang Peoples Militia commanded by Bo Mon is active in and around Mong Yaw, according to SHAN.
The Kachin Defense Army (KDA) People’s Militia led by Matu Naw, Kachin Independence Army (KIA), Shan State Army (SSA), and Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) are active about 30 miles outside the area.
Human rights abuses
Arbitrary detentions by soldiers in Shan state are nothing new.
Unidentified gunmen abducted 50 men from four villages between Lashio and Namtu townships during a raid last Nov. 26. Clashes between Myanmar’s military and the ethnic Shan State Army-North (SSA-N) had frequently occurred in the area.
Hostilities resumed between the army and the SSA-N early last October, forcing an estimated 10,000 people to flee their homes in the central part of Shan state.
At the time, local civil society groups urged the international community to “break its silence on the war crimes” being committed by Myanmar government troops in Shan state with their repeated air and ground missile attacks on densely populated civilian areas, along with the shootings and rapes of villagers.
Last week, officials prevented Yanghee Lee, the United Nations human rights envoy to Myanmar, from visiting areas of Shan state where fighting and human rights abuses have reportedly occurred, according to another SHAN report.
Citing security reasons, they also prevented her from visiting conflict zones in northern Myanmar’s restive Kachin state where fighting is taking place.
Lee had wanted to include the states on her 12-day mission to Myanmar, which ends Friday, to observe the situation of war refugees, especially in the aftermath of heavy fighting in Shan state between the Myanmar military and armed ethnic groups in May.
However, she did meet with CSOs in Lashio and told them that she would thoroughly review reports of human rights violations submitted to her for a report she is compiling for the U.N., the SHAN report said.
Reported by Kan Thar for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.