RANGOON — A local journalist who was reporting in Mon State on the recent fighting between the Burma Army and Karen rebels was killed while in custody of government soldiers, according to the Interim Myanmar Press Council.
Kyaw Min Swe, editor-in-chief of local newspaper The Voice and the Press Council’s general secretary, told The Irrawaddy on Friday morning that the council had received a statement from the Burma Army on Thursday, informing them of the death of Aung Kyaw Naing, also known as Par Gyi.
He was detained on Sept. 30 by the army’s Light Infantry Battalion 208 in Mon State’s Kyaikmayaw town and had not been heard of since.
The army’s statement, which was obtained by The Irrawaddy on Friday afternoon, claimed that the reporter had been in the custody of an unnamed “roving battalion” looking for DKBA rebels in an area outside of the town on Oct. 4, when he “tried to seize a gun from a guard and run away; then he was shot dead the guard” at around 7:40 pm.
The statement also alleged that the journalist had been a “communications captain” of the Klohtoobaw Karen Organization, the political wing of the Democratic Karen Benevolent Army (DKBA).
The statement added that the body of the journalist had been buried in Shwe War Chong, a village some 20 km from Kyaikmayaw, and that his wife would be informed of his death. The statement was not printed on official letterhead of the Ministry of Defense and was undated.
Kyaw Min Swe said he knew that it had come from the army because it was emailed to the Press Council by an aide to Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing. “We are going to discuss these events with the members of the Press Council soon,” he added.
Aung Kyaw Naing had worked with The Voice’s reporters based in the Mon State capital Moulmein. The 49-year-old freelance journalist regularly reported on ethnic issues along the Burma-Thai border and contributed to different Rangoon-based papers.
He travelled to Mon State’s Kyaikmayaw Township late last month to cover an outbreak of heavy fighting between the DKBA and the army.
It is believed that the army’s Light Infantry Battalion 208, based in Mon State’s Kyaikmayaw town, arrested Aung Kyaw Naing in order to interrogate him about the whereabouts of the DKBA units, which were on the run from the army at the time.
He was last seen returning to Kyaikmayaw town from an area of DKBA control when was apprehended by authorities, police and soldiers in late September, his wife Than Dar said last week. She is an activist with the Rangoon-based Peace and Women Network and made a public appeal to the army calling for his immediate release.
When The Irrawaddy contacted Than Dar in Bangkok on Friday morning she said that no one had informed her yet of her husband’s death. “If he is dead, I want to get his body back,” she said in a phone call. “I could not accept that he has died. I will continue fighting for justice.
“I don’t want any wives or daughters to suffer like we suffer. I will proceed with the charges [against the army] for torture and death,” said Than Dar, who has one daughter with Aung Kyaw Naing.
The Voice reported the news of the killing on the front page on Friday morning. Kyaw Min Swe said the daily had gone ahead with publishing the news before informing the victim’s wife because she was abroad. “We tried to contact her but she is in Thailand,” he said.
Saw Lont Lone, the secretary of Klohtoobaw Karen Organization, denied to The Irrawaddy that Aung Kyaw Naing was in any way affiliated with the Karen rebel group, as the army claimed.
“He is just a journalist and we helped him when he came to gather news, that’s all,” he said.
Shawn Crispin, Southeast Asia representative for the Committee to Protect Journalists, said in a reaction on Friday afternoon that the government should publicly address the allegations.
“We are gravely concerned by preliminary reports that journalist Aung Kyaw Naing may have been killed while in military custody. Government authorities must investigate these reports and if founded reveal publicly the circumstances behind his death,” he told The Irrawaddy.
Reporting by Lawi Weng, Nyein Nyein and Kyaw Hsu Mon. This story was updated on Oct. 24 at 3 pm.