RANGOON — At a press conference in Rangoon on Wednesday, the Burma Army re-stated their defense of a low-ranking soldier accused by locals of murdering an unarmed ethnic Kachin student, aged 19 years old, in the Kachin State capital Myitkyina on June 20.
At the same press conference, the Burma Army accepted responsibility for the murder of five civilians in a rural area of Lashio Township in northern Shan State at the end of June, and promised to take unspecified “action” against the soldiers involved.
Lt Gen Mya Tun Oo repeated the army’s earlier claim of self-defense regarding the Myitkyina incident: that the shot that killed the university student Gum Seng Awng was a “misfire” from the soldier who, along with one other soldier on duty, was trying to fend off a physical assault from the student and seven other youths, and protect his gun from being seized.
The student was punching the soldier in the face and going after his gun, said Lt Gen Mya Tun Oo. The two soldiers were guarding the Bala Min Thin Bridge in the city.
“We have strong evidence,” Lt Gen Mya Tun Oo said, adding that, “We have suspicions that those eight youths were using illegal drugs, because normally people are afraid of guns but they weren’t.” He said the army would be investigating the incident further.
Hkawn Nawng, the lawyer hired by the family of the victim, is currently gathering evidence in preparation to file a case against the accused soldier, Private Maung Maung. He told The Irrawaddy that “only four” youth were involved in the fracas with the two soldiers, rather than eight as claimed by the Burma Army.
The lawyer denied that any of the youth were attempting to seize the gun from the soldier, and said the four were stopped while trying to cross the bridge on motorbikes, before being shot by the soldier. He said he had three witnesses prepared to confirm this.
Although a case has yet to be filed against the soldier, the lawyer said that Lt Gen Mya Tun Oo’s comments at the Rangoon press conference show “disrespect” to the judicial system, and betray an attempt by the Burma Army to position themselves above the law, since “only a court has the right to decide whether or not the soldier is innocent [of murder].”
Meanwhile, police in Myitkyina have charged three local youths who survived the incident—named Joseph Brang Nan, Htwal San Awng and Sut Jat—for allegedly attempting to seize the gun from the soldier who committed the fatal shooting. All three are currently released on bail.