Burma Army Claims Responsibility for Five Civilian Deaths in Northern Shan State 

By Lawi Weng & Htun Htun 20 July 2016

RANGOON — The Burma Army has said it will take action against troops accused of killing civilians in a rural area of northern Shan State’s Lashio Township in late June.

Lt-Gen Mya Tun Oo spoke at a press conference on Wednesday in Rangoon, and said that his army would punish soldiers who had violated laws.

“We did an investigation, met the victims’ families, and even offered support to them. We found from our investigation that our troops violated laws and killed people. Therefore, we will take action against our troops,” the lieutenant general said, without elaborating on what this action would entail.

Local sources have said that a total of seven people were killed in Lashio Township’s Mong Yaw village on June 25: two men were reportedly shot while riding motorbikes, and five more bodies were found buried by a corn field after the individuals were detained by members of Burma Army Light Infantry Battalion (LIB) 362.

However, Mya Tun Oo said the investigation revealed that Burma Army troops had killed five people—the individuals whose bodies were found in the field—but said he did not know who was responsible for murdering the two men traveling by motorbike.

He told reporters at the press conference that his troops went to Mong Yaw after the Burma Army’s Northeast Regional Command Center, based in Lashio, allegedly received information indicating that 200 armed rebels were attempting to recruit locals in the area.

The Northeast Regional Command Center allowed LIB 362 to go to the area; Mya Tun Oo said there was fighting between ethnic armed groups and the Burma Army near Mong Yaw village in the location where the two men were shot on their motorbikes.

“They drove motorbikes through the middle of the fighting. Their motorbike fell down after they got shot, but we do not know which side shot them,” he said, adding that the men had died by the time Burma Army troops reached them and buried them beside the road. He also said that two packs of amphetamines were found near the bodies.

“Our troops drew the conclusion that those two persons’ deaths were related to illegal drugs,” Mya Tun Oo said.

At the time of their death, locals told a different account of the events: the men had been traveling through a rural area and were ordered to stop by the Burma Army. They were then shot when they refused to do so.

Regarding the additional five victims—of whom four were ethnic Palaung (Ta’ang) and one was Shan—Mya Tun Oo said his troops detained five people working on a corn farm. He said the soldiers allegedly found a phone on one of the detainees that held a photo of him with the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), an ethnic armed group with whom the Burma Army is engaged in active conflict.

Mya Tun Oo also said that the troops found documents stating that the farmers were members of the TNLA.

“Our troops drew the conclusion that they had links to the TNLA,” he added, continuing that, “whether they were insurgents or not, our army needs to respect the law. We have to punish persons who violate the law.”

After the civilian deaths, rights groups and community leaders in northern Shan State accused the Burma Army of involvement in the murders and called on the government to take action against the military.

“We wanted the government to take action against those who violate human rights. We want this government to be a government who can protect the people’s lives and property,” said Sai Wann Lern Kham, an Upper House lawmaker representing Lashio and nearby townships through the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD). “If not, our locals feel that they have no security anymore.”