Myanmar’s military said Tuesday that some of its troops used unlawful and improper interrogation techniques while detaining five Rakhine men suspected of having links to the rebel Arakan Army, a rare admission offered a day after a video published by RFA showed soldiers beating the men on board a naval vessel.
A statement posted around 8 a.m. on the website of the military commander-in-chief’s office said the government army will take legal action against security personnel who conducted unlawful interrogations of the civilians.
The statement also said that the five men were detained by security forces during clearance operations in Kyauk Seik village of Ponnagyun township in war-ravaged northern Rakhine state, and were believed to have connections to the AA.
Security forces assigned to guard the men interrogated them while they were being transported on a naval vessel from Ponnagyun to Rakhine’s capital Sittwe on April 27, it said.
Those security forces are now under military investigation for their actions and will be subject to legal action according to military laws and regulations, the statement said.
The video, which has circulated widely on social media, shows the five men blindfolded and with their hands tied behind their backs inside the boat while other men in plainclothes beat and kick them. It’s not clear who shot or posted the video that emerged on Sunday.
The five were forced to confess to being AA fighters, some of their family members told RFA Monday on condition of anonymity after the video went viral inside Myanmar.
Their relatives and local villagers said the men in the video are ordinary civilians, not conspirators of the ethnic armed group, which was declared an illegal association and a terrorist organization by the Myanmar government in March.
Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of New York-based Human Rights Watch, said that an investigation led by the military will not likely render justice for the five men who were beaten.
“When I hear that the Tatmadaw [Myanmar military] is setting up an investigation committee, I realize that there’s not going to be any progress whatsoever on that case,” he told RFA.
“The fact that we have these people taken out of a police station by the military, and then allegedly tortured on a boat, and then sent back to the police indicates just how above the law the military is,” he said.
Instead of a military probe, Robertson called for a full investigation by an independent, impartial organization, group, or commission.
Fighting between the Myanmar military and the AA has raged in northern Rakhine state and in Paletwa township of adjacent Chin state for 16 months, as the rebel force seeks greater autonomy for ethnic Rakhines in the region.
On April 13, the two sides engaged in clashes near Ponnagyun’s Kyauk Seik village, with Myanmar Army soldiers later shelling the community, killing eight civilians and injuring more than a dozen others.
Six days after the shelling, soldiers detained 38 villagers for questioning over possible ties to the AA, but released 33 of them the next day. The remaining five — three from the village, one from elsewhere in Ponnagyun township, and the other from Mrauk-U township — had been sent by naval vessel to the Sittwe Myoma Police Station for interrogation.
The five men were returned to Ponnagyun Myoma Police Station on May 7.
Reported and translated by Nandar Chann for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.