3 Kachin Villagers Still Missing a Month After Burma Army Arrest

By Lawi Weng 27 July 2015

RANGOON — More than a month after the disappearance of three ethnic Kachin villagers in northern Burma, their families are struggling to get by while searching for elusive answers from local authorities.

Tu Ja, Than Lwin and Pho The were arrested by the Burma Army’s Light Infantry Battalion 250 in Hpakant Township on June 19, accused of association with the Kachin Independence Army (KIA).

Their lawyer, Mar Khar, said they were apprehended at home in the evening, and that Tu Ja’s wife had alerted the state’s chief minister shortly after his disappearance. The men have not been seen or heard from since, according to Mar Khar.

When contacted on Monday, the commander of LIB 250, Ye Kyaw Thu, told The Irrawaddy that the men had long since been released from custody.

“We released them just a day after we detained them,” Ye Kyaw Thu said. “We thought that they had links with the KIA, but they did not, so we released them.”

Mar Khar said that Ye Kyaw Thu had met with the families of the missing men, offering them money, rice and tea to ease the strain of lost income as the men had not come home.
“It’s not compensation,” Mar Khar explained, “It’s just to help provide for the family.”

Mar Khar said the commander advised them to contact the battalion if they needed assistance because the men had not come home.

The families of the three men believe that they were killed, Mar Khar said.

“They are very worried now about this crime as it is now up to the public to find justice,” he said. “For us, we believe that they were already killed.”

Tu Ja’s family initially attempted to open a police investigation in their village, Ka Mai, but were told to appeal directly to the battalion commander.

Local policeman Tun Aung La confirmed that he had redirected the complaint, telling The Irrawaddy that he “advised them to go to the battalion because the battalion arrested those three people.”

The officer said the family could opt to open a missing persons case with the police, though Mar Khar said they had met with difficulties in trying to do so because the case involved senior military figures.

The presence of the Burma Army has increased in parts of Kachin State since the 2011 breakdown of a 17-year ceasefire between the government and Kachin rebels. Intermittent conflict has erupted in various parts of the resource-rich northern territory, displacing more than 100,000 civilians over the past four years.