Myanmar’s army said Monday it is holding two soldiers who admitted to shooting dead an ethnic Karen mother of three children in eastern Kayin state last week, a killing the local ethnic army reported as a violation of a fragile nationwide cease-fire pact.
On July 16, two privates went to Poloe Htar village carrying small firearms without permission, drank bootleg alcohol with three villagers, and accidentally shot the woman in the neck and back during a scuffle after one of the soldiers tried to grab a gold chain necklace, the military said in a statement.
Privates Hein Min Htet and Than Soe Lwin, whose gun killed the woman, ran and hid in a forest between the village and their military base, but surrendered on July 17. The two confessed to the shooting and are now being detained in a military prison in neighboring Mon state, the army said.
“The military will further investigate and will take action in a serious, timely, and transparent manner according to military codes of conduct and laws,” the military statement said.
“The court martial will also prosecute responsible officers from the base who failed to report the incident in timely manner,” said the army, which sent a team of officers to the region on July 19 to investigate the incident because it involved the use of a serviceman's weapon on a civilian.
The Karen National Union (KNU), an ethnic army that controls the part of Hpapun district where the killing took place, identified the victim as Naw Mu Naw, 40, the wife of Poloe Htar village administrator Saw Pu Aye and the mother of three children.
“Two soldiers from the Hla Goon Pyo camp arrived in Poloe Htar village, and then they shot and killed Naw Mu Naw,” after she refused to give them the empty rice bags they had asked for, said Major Ae Do from the KNU’s Division No. 5.
“This is a violation of the NCA agreement,” he said, referring to a 2015 nationwide cease-fire agreement to which the Karen force is a party.
The KNU is one of 10 ethnic armies that have signed the NCA, a pact intended to end decades of conflict that have stymied Myanmar’s political and economic development.
Ae Do said the KNU, Myanmar’s oldest ethnic rebel army, has filed a complaint about the incident with the state-level Joint Ceasefire Monitoring Committee (JMC), which monitors the implementation of the truce.
The complaint accuses Than Soe Lwin and Hein Min Htet from the 409th Infantry Division under the No. 8 Military Operation Command of murder and theft.
Ae Do said that Section 3 of the NCA mandates that military troops must protect the lives of civilians.
“They have done the opposite, so we have filed compliant to take action against them,” he said, adding that the violation of the terms of the NCA has eroded the KNA’s trust in the government.
‘Killed for no reason’
The KNU Concerned Group, a breakaway hard-line group led by former KNU vice chairwoman Naw Si Phora Sein, issued a statement Monday demanding that two international rights groups be included in the investigation of the killing.
“This innocent woman was killed for no reason,” Naw Si Phora Sein said. “We would like to demand that Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch be involved in the investigation to ensure that justice for her is served.”
“Only then will these kinds of acts be stopped,” she added.
The KNU Concerned Group said Myanmar soldiers have committed many crimes not only in Kayin state, but also in other ethnic areas, and that Myanmar’s judicial system does not permit effective legal action against military violators.
Aung Myo Min, executive director of Equality Myanmar, a human rights education group based in Yangon, said he is concerned about the prospects for the NCA because of violations of the truce's terms by the national army.
“This is an apparent violation of the NCA agreement,” he told RFA. “Such actions also undermine the direction in which the NCA signatories are heading.”
“An insignificant issue could develop into a larger problem, and if there is no security for local civilians, the prospects for peace would be very concerning,” he said.
Reported by Kyaw Lwin Oo for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.