The Myanmar military has said it will investigate the deaths of three ethnic Ta’ang civilians, who died while being detained by soldiers in Myanmar’s restive northern Shan state, and hold those responsible to account, a village administrator and local residents said Friday.
The move came two days after RFA published video and written accounts earlier on Tuesday that the bodies had been discovered in makeshift graves last week in Muse township.
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 Myanmar soldiers following a clash with the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), a Ta’ang civil society group and the relatives of the dead told RFA in the earlier report.
The group and family members have demanded that the government army — the alleged perpetrators of the killings — be brought to justice for the crime. The military initially had denied responsibility for the killings.
Colonel Hla Moe, commander of the army’s Light Infantry Division No. 99, met with village administrators, a local lawmaker and Ta’ang civil society officials on Thursday in Muse and told them that an investigation would be conducted, said Nyan Moe, administrator of Neng Kat village tract where the bodies were found.
Those who attended the meeting vouched for the testimonies of villagers who were detained by soldiers from the army division along with the three deceased men, but later escaped. Those who got away said the soldiers who abducted them wore the insignia of Light Infantry Division No. 99 on their uniforms.
“The soldiers had asked the villagers to look down, Nyan Moe said. “They asked two of the villagers who died to lie down on their stomachs. The villagers got a glance of their insignias with No. 99 on them.”
The Ta’ang Literature and Culture Organization issued a statement on Wednesday about the three men who died in military custody.
“We called the [army division] by name in our statement because we have witnesses who are confident about what they saw,” said Ta’ang National Party lawmaker Nyi Sein, chairman of the civil society group.
“But the military officer didn’t say anything about it,” he said, referring to Colonel Hla Moe. “The division commander said he would inspect his soldiers [and] obtain the truth through interrogation.”
“I think he meant that he might either confirm or reject our testimonies,” Nyi Sein added.
RFA could not reach Myanmar military spokesman Major General Zaw Min Tun in time for comment before publication.
Tied to trees
Nyan Moe said Mai Nyi Tun and Nyi Leik were from his village tract and that they earned a living by making charcoal.
Local villagers had searched for all three missing men for 10 days before filing missing persons reports with authorities. Civil leaders also filed a report at the police station in Muse.
When RFA contacted Muse police for comment about the investigation, the person who responded to the call refused to answer questions over the phone.
Kham Aung, the older sister of Mai Nyi Tun, told RFA she was not aware of the meeting between the division commander and civil society leaders, but said she did not wish to see any other villagers disappear and die.
“I don’t want such things to happen to civilians anymore, whether the offenders are the military troops or any other armed groups,” she said.
The bodies of the trio were dug up on Aug. 21 in the presence of family members, local residents, a forensic physician, policemen, and civil administrators.
Tar Aik Thein Win, secretary of the Ta’ang Literature and Culture Organization, said that the spot where the villagers were killed was the site of a former TNLA camp.
“There are trenches near the site. The villagers were shot and buried in the trenches,” he told RFA, adding that the bodies showed signs of possible torture.
“It seemed like the villagers were tied to the trees when they were killed,” he said. “Their bodies were found tied in strings. I don’t know if they were killed by torture or by shooting.”
The forensic physician refused to comment on the causes of death, and now the bodies have been cremated, Tar Aik Thein Win said.
The Ta’ang, also called Palaung, are one of Myanmar’s 135 officially recognized ethnic groups. Besides Shan state, they also can be found in southwestern China’s Yunnan province and in northern Thailand.
Reported by Zarni Htun and Kan Thar for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.