UN launches probe into burning alive of 2 rebel fighters in Myanmar

It wants the junta to detail circumstances of the victims’ detention and the identities of those responsible.
By RFA Burmese
2024.05.28
UN launches probe into burning alive of 2 rebel fighters in Myanmar Phoe Tay, left, and Thar Htaung.
YDF

The United Nations’ investigative unit has called on Myanmar’s ruling junta to provide information about two young men in Magway region who were burned alive by junta forces, to build a criminal case against the perpetrators.

In February, a video of the burning deaths of rebel fighters Phoe Tay, 23, and Thar Htaung, 22, was widely viewed by Burmese people on social media. The two young men were captured Nov. 7, 2023, in fighting between pro-junta forces and guerillas at Myauk Khin Yan village in Magway region’s Gangaw township.

On Monday, the U.N.’s Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar sent a request to the military for details of the capture and killing of the two as part of a probe seeking accountability for their deaths.

The body was created by the U.N. Human Rights Council in 2018 to collect and analyze evidence of serious international crimes and other violations of international law committed in Myanmar since 2011.

In an accompanying statement, Nicholas Koumjian, head of the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar, urged the military to “fully cooperate” with the request by giving his unit access to the country and sharing requested information.

“The mechanism is conducting an impartial and independent determination of the facts surrounding this incident, including the identity and affiliation of the perpetrators,” Koumjian said. 

“As part of this investigation, the mechanism has asked the Myanmar military to share with it any information about the units in the area and their commanders, the circumstances of the victims’ detention and treatment, and the persons seen committing the torture and killings.”

Since the military seized power in a February 2021 coup, reports of torture, beheadings and burning of corpses by junta forces have become commonplace, but the graphic nature of the Nov. 7 video has triggered a wave of revulsion in Myanmar and beyond – and sympathy for the dead.

The video showed the two alleged members of the anti-junta Yaw Defence Force fighters in shackles as they were interrogated by armed men. They were then dragged to a nearby tree where they were suspended as a fire was set underneath them. The two young men screamed as flames rose up and engulfed them.

The video was taken by a villager who fled Myauk Khin Yan in December, according to a local official from the administration of the shadow National Unity Government. It’s unclear who first posted the video that began circulating in early February.

A chance to respond

RFA Burmese contacted a resident of Gangaw township who said that his community was glad to hear the case is under investigation and wants a resolution as soon as possible.

"They [the perpetrators] burnt two young men alive and threw their bodies into the water,” said the resident, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to security concerns. “It happened upstream from our village. We witnessed it and were outraged. They were brutally killed.”

The families of the two young men are currently sheltering in the jungle as internally displaced persons.

In February, their parents told RFA that they were proud of the sacrifices their sons had made for Myanmar and its people.

Human rights lawyer and legal expert Kyee Myint said that the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar’s request has given the junta the chance to clarify the details of the case.

“The junta has supported its militia members in killing people and this act was carried out by its Pyu Saw Htee militia, so it was indirectly committed by junta troops,” he said. “The Mechanism has asked the junta to name the preparators, otherwise it will proceed with the case to a U.N. court.”

Junta has ‘never confessed’

Nay Phone Latt, spokesperson for the prime minister’s office of the shadow National Unity Government – made up of former civilian leaders in exile or hiding – told RFA that the junta was unlikely to respond to the mechanism’s request.

"They [the junta] have committed mass killings, war crimes, brutal beheadings, and arson attacks all over the country,” he said. “However, the junta never confessed to any of the crimes it committed. Instead, it accuses rebel forces … and ethnic armed groups of committing such crimes.”

Nonetheless, it is “impossible to hide such cases” in today’s age of technology, he added.

Attempts by RFA to contact junta spokesperson Major General Zaw Min Htun and Myo Myint, the junta’s social affairs minister and spokesperson for Magway region, for a response to the Mechanism’s request went unanswered Tuesday.

In his statement, Koumjian noted that the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar has made numerous requests to the military for information related to “the many serious crimes” it is investigating, including those allegedly committed by Myanmar security forces and by armed groups.

“To date, the military has not responded to any of these requests,” he said.

Translated by Aung Naing. Edited by Joshua Lipes and Malcolm Foster.

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