RANGOON — Burmese authorities continue to investigate the case of two female schoolteachers who were found brutally murdered on Tuesday at a village in northern Shan State.
Speaking to The Irrawaddy by telephone, a police officer in Muse who is involved in the investigation said a team including police, the Burma Army and Muse Township authorities returned to the village, located in neighboring Kutkai Township, to collect further evidence on Wednesday.
“They arrived to the village at 9:30 [am], and the investigation is ongoing. We aren’t able to say yet what the full situation is,” said Zaw Min Tun, the Muse officer.
The women, both about 20 years old, were ethnic Kachin schoolteachers who had come to Kaung Kha village about two years ago as volunteers with the Kachin Baptist Church.
Asked about autopsies for the victims, being carried out by a hospital in Muse, the Muse police officer said results were not yet available.
“The hospital is conducting more medical tests to determine whether this is a rape case. The hospital may issue the results on Monday,” he said.
The investigation team on Wednesday morning collected pieces of hair at the scene of the crime, the victims shared bedroom in a dormitory where their bodies were found on Tuesday morning, according to Kaung Kha village head La Sai. Investigators will run DNA tests on the hair samples, he said, adding that a small kitchen knife was also collected from the crime scene.
La Sai said the investigation team also found footprints in the victims’ room, but he declined to speculate on how many perpetrators may have been involved in the killings.
“For us normal people, we do not know how many people were involved in this case. But those who are crime experts, they may know how many people were involved,” La Sai said.
Images of the two women’s mutilated bodies quickly spread via social media on Tuesday, along with unsubstantiated rumors that they had been gang-raped by Burmese soldiers.
The Burma Army has been accused of sexual violence in conflict zones and the rumor gained traction among the local community, some of whom claimed that the area has seen a recent rise in military presence.
The Burma Army has vowed to make itself more available for media inquiries, but contact information for press liaisons was still unavailable at time of writing.
Burma Campaign UK, a London-based rights advocacy group, on Tuesday said it had “confirmed reports that two ethnic Kachin teachers were raped by Burmese Army soldiers overnight on 19th/20th January.”
The group called on the British government to make good on its promise to prioritize the prevention of violence against women in conflict by dispatching UK investigators to the scene of the crime, and urged an end to the limited military-to-military engagement currently taking place between the two countries.
The British Foreign & Commonwealth Office had not issued a public statement on the murders as of Wednesday evening.
The US Embassy did chime in on Wednesday, calling the killings “horrific” and offering its condolences to the victims’ families. The embassy said that it had not received evidence indicating Burma Army involvement in the case.
“We have discussed the incident with the government,” a US Embassy spokesperson told The Irrawaddy. “We conveyed that a transparent and credible investigation will be critical, particularly given the ongoing conflict in Kachin and northern Shan states, which continues to weaken trust and create conditions for violence and injustice that undermine a lasting peace.”
A nurse at the hospital in Muse who did not want to be named told The Irrawaddy that doctors involved in the autopsies had determined that both victims were raped.
“The doctors told me that they found sperm inside the two victims. At least two people raped the two victims,” said the nurse, adding that the sperm would be sent to a hospital in Lashio for further analysis.
The victims’ bodies were brought to Myitkyina on Wednesday evening. The Kachin Baptist Convention (KBC) will hold a funeral service for the deceased on Thursday in the state capital.
Lama Yaw, a communications officer with the KBC, told The Irrawaddy that the KBC had urged the hospital to release to the public any preliminary autopsy findings, but was told that police and army officials had placed an effective gag order on the hospital.
In the information void, Lama Yaw said the area’s Kachin community had come to the conclusion that the women were victims of a double rape-murder.
“Our KBC believe that if this country has justice, if those who run the country have a conscience, justice will be brought for the people who committed this crime,” he said. “There will be justice for this crime.”