Ta’ang civil society groups and the relatives of three missing ethnic Ta’ang villagers whose bodies turned up last week in a township in Myanmar’s restive northern Shan state have demanded that the Myanmar military — the alleged perpetrators of the killings — be brought to justice for the crime, they told RFA on Tuesday.
Mai Nyi Tun, 28, from Man Kan village; Mai Alone from Lwe Mon village; and Nyi Leik, 40, from Mai Sat village, all in Namhkam township, disappeared at the end of May after being detained by government soldiers following a clash with the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), they said.
Residents found their buried corpses in Muse township’s Neng Kat village tract on Aug. 21, and they were dug up in the presence of police, local civil administration staffers, a doctor, and members of the Ta’ang Literature and Culture Organization.
The causes of death have yet to be determined, officials from the Ta’ang organization said.
The military denied responsibility for the killings.
Fighting that broke out near Nant Phat Kar village in Muse district’s Kutkai town on May 29 was the first clash following declarations of temporary cease-fires by both sides in an effort to help prevent and contain the spread of the coronavirus.
Both the national and ethnic armies routinely detain civilians in conflict zones for questioning to determine if they are involved with the enemy, or to force them to work as local guides and porters.
‘He never returned’
Mai Nyi Tun left home on May 28 to search for firewood and spent the night in a friend’s hut as TNLA troops stationed near the home engaged in fighting with a Myanmar military regiment, said his sister, Mai Nyi Tun, who lost contact with him the following day.
“The Myanmar military had taken him,” she said. “We’d lost contact with him. He never returned. Wherever the troops are, they should not do such things. We want to demand justice for him.”
TNLA soldiers brought Mai Alone into the area and he was left behind during the fighting only to be detained later by government troops along with Mai Nyi Tun, said Mai Alone’s father. His son left home in April to try to find work, he added.
Tar Aik Thein Win, secretary of the Ta’ang Literature and Culture Organization, said the third man, Nyi Leik, went missing after he left home on May 29.
Though the vice commander of the military’s regional division visited the area, villagers did not say anything about the missing trio, he said, adding that they informed his organization about the disappearances about 10 days after they occurred.
“So, I put together biographies of the missing persons and gave the information to Myanmar military intelligence,” he said. “Then they were found.”
Myanmar military spokesman Major General Zaw Min Tun said the area where the bodies were discovered is a site where TNLA troops had been stationed.
“This is the only information we got so far, so it is not possible that they were killed by the military,” he told RFA.
TNLA spokesman Major Mai Aik Kyaw said Ta’ang, also known as Palaung, soldiers were mobilized in the Muse and Namhkam areas in May and that fighting had occurred near the hut in the hills.
“Our troops were stationed in the area a few days ago, but they are gone now, because military troops arrived and engaged in fighting,” he said.
Locals say they do not believe the Myanmar Army’s denial of involvement in the murders.
“If they were interrogating the victims as suspects, they should not have brutally tortured and killed them,” said Lue Po Palar from the Ta’ang Women’s Organization (TWO), a civil society group that documents human rights issues concerning Ta’ang women.
“Their families had lost contact, and we were still wondering where they were. We will help the civilians seek justice,” she added.
Police Commander Banyar Oo of the Shan state police said officers have opened a case and begun investigations into the deaths.
Shan state, Myanmar’s largest state and home to the country’s second-largest ethnic group, has been under armed conflict between government forces and numerous ethnic-based armies fighting for autonomy since 1958, 10 years after the former Burma gained independence from Britain in 1948.
The TNLA, the armed wing of the Palaung State Liberation Front (PSLF), has not signed the government nationwide cease-fire agreement (NCA), inked by 10 other ethnic armies since October 2015.
Reported by Kan Thar for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translate by Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.