RANGOON — Burma Army officers in northern Shan State offered money to the families of two ethnic Kachin schoolteachers who were found murdered near the border town of Muse last week, a member of a Christian Kachin organization has said.
Tu Jha, a leader of the Kachin Baptist Convention (KBC) in Kutkai Township, said two army officers from Light Infantry Battalion 503 met with family members of the victims during a prayer ceremony held on Monday at Kaung Kha village, where the young women were killed.
“They were sitting with us at the ceremony for the whole time yesterday. One was tactical commander Tun Naing Oo and another is his junior officer. They told us they were sad about the deaths of the victims and showed support to the families,” he said. “They told the families that they wanted to help and offered money, but the families refused to take it.”
Tu Jha said the families would leave the decision on whether to accept the money up to KBC, for which the two teachers had been volunteering.
Some 2,000 people attended the ceremony on Monday for Maram Lu Ra and Tangbau Hkawn Nan Tsin, both 20 years old, who were killed on Jan. 19. Their bodies were found in their shared dormitory in Kaung Kha village, on Jan. 20. They were buried on Thursday in Myitkyina, the Kachin State capital, after an autopsy was carried out at Muse Hospital.
Sources inside the hospital told The Irrawaddy last week that doctors had determined both victims were raped. The autopsy report has yet to be made public.
A Kachin community leader from Kutkai Township, who declined to be named, said he had seen the officers offer the families “a pack of money” worth several thousand dollars. Family members confirmed with BBC Burmese earlier on Tuesday that the military had offered them money.
He said he heard that local army commanders had initially pressured the local community into keeping silent about the case, but this changed after the army’s Northern Command ordered local officers to investigate the possible involvement of soldiers.
KBC sources have said that authorities were investigating the case under Section 302 and Section 376 of Burma’s penal code, covering murder and rape, respectively.
Locals and Kachin activists have alleged that the murders coincided with an increased Burma Army troop presence in the area, fueling speculation that a soldier or soldiers were behind the crime.
The grisly murders have caused a public outcry and raised tensions between Kachin ethnic communities and the army, which has long been accused of carrying out abuses and sexual violence against minority communities.
Shan State police have said they are investigating the case and found hair samples at the crime scene that they were DNA testing for a match with 20 soldiers stationed in the area at the time of the murder.
Aung Nang, a Kaung Kha village leader, said a special investigation team arrived in the area on Tuesday and had questioned ten villagers, including elders and youths, while also questioning 20 soldiers from Light Infantry Battalion 503.
The Burma Amy has no known spokespersons and could not be reached for comment.