The charred remains of four Kachin villagers were discovered in Burma’s conflict-torn north over the weekend, with locals alleging Burma Army involvement amid increasingly tense civilian-military relations in the area.
Local sources say at least three of the four villagers were arrested by Burma Army troops on Jan. 25 on their way to a coal mine that they worked at near Malun Banka village, located on the road linking the towns of Kutkai and Muse in northern Shan State.
Zau Shan, a Kachin community leader from the Kachin Baptist Convention in Muse Township who is closely following the case, told The Irrawaddy on Monday that the four dead bodies were those of villagers who had been missing since last week.
“We are now in the process of finding out details about the killings to understand who is behind them,” said Zau Shan.
The four men were identified by the ethnic media outlet Kachinland News as Mahaw La Ja, Lahtaw Hkun Hpung, Maran Yaw Han and Doi Ring. Their bodies were discovered by local villagers on Saturday.
Sources said the four dead villagers’ bodies were so badly burned that family members struggled to identify their remains. It is unclear whether the victims were burned alive or set alight after they were killed.
A funeral service was held by local Christian ministers on Sunday.
A religious leader from Malun Banka village, who asked that his name be withheld, said the bodies were found about seven miles outside of Malun Banka village.
“It was in the jungle. We do not know which battalion killed them,” he said.
“At first, we thought that they would emerge from the jungle after three or four days, but we didn’t see them. This was why some villagers decided to search the jungle, where there has been fighting, and found the bodies of the missing youth.”
The religious leader said three of the bodies were found in one location, and the other was discovered about 200 meters away. The lone body appears to be unrelated to the Jan. 25 detention of the three villagers and has not yet been identified, according to the religious leader, contrary to the Kachinland News report.
Sources complain of rising crime in the area since the murder of two Kachin volunteer teachers in a separate village of Muse Township on Jan. 19.
Seng Awng of the Kachin Peacetalk Creation Group, which helps mediate peace negotiations between the rebel Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) and the Burmese government, told The Irrawaddy that multiple crimes by Burma Army troops had been reported since the murder of the two teachers. The Burma Army has also been implicated in that case and the investigation is ongoing.
Seng Awng said a soldier from the Burma Army made an unsuccessful attempt to rape a Kachin woman in her 30s on Jan. 21, with the woman beaten and the Burmese Army later apologizing for the incident.
Two days later, two men in their 20s were arrested by the Burma Army and killed while a friend of the pair went missing in the Kutkai Township village of Moha, also in northern Shan State, according to Seng Awng.
“They [government troops] arrested them when they went to collect firewood. They then shot them dead. Another one is still missing,” Seng Awng said.
The bodies of the two young men were discovered later by local residents.
“They [crimes] have been reported continuously since the two volunteer teachers were killed. Four crimes happened within a month. It has happened because there is a growing military deployment. They are everywhere. Clashes also are being reported,” said Seng Awng.
That assertion was supported by Mai Aie Kyaw, a spokesperson for the ethnic Palaung rebel armed group known as the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), who said that frequent clashes between the Burma Army and TNLA troops were also taking place in northern Shan State, including on Monday. The fighting broke out just before 9 am and continued into the afternoon, he said.
“We haven’t heard any report of causalities yet. Now, it is the season for poppy cultivation, so we are trying to destroy the poppies. We are attacked by the government army when we are undertaking these operations. So, clashes often break out,” said Mai Aie Kyaw.
The Burma Army has pledged to make itself more accessible to media inquiries, but as of writing, there was no known contact information for a military spokesman to comment on the allegations.
The latest round of clashes appears to have been set off by an incident on Jan. 14, when the KIO detained a state minister and three police officers. All four men were eventually released, but not before Kachin and Palaung rebels had engaged in a series of clashes in the area that continued this week.
With additional reporting by Lawi Weng.