RANGOON — The Burma Army’s deputy regional commander visited Mong Yaw village in Lashio Township on Sunday, giving “donations” to victims’ families after seven people in and around the village were killed on June 28, with locals blaming the Burma Army.
The visit came after police told victims’ families they were “powerless” to investigate allegations against the Burma Army because the area was a “conflict zone,” and so the Burma Army must take charge of any investigation. The police would merely notify the army via a senior officer.
Local sources told The Irrawaddy that soldiers opened fired on two young men riding motorcycles near the village, after they refused an order to stop. On the same day, soldiers from Light Infantry Battalion 362 took five residents of the village from their fields, according to the victims’ families, who found their bodies the next day buried in a nearby cornfield.
However, media controlled by the Burmese military have tied the killings instead to the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), an ethnic armed group engaged in ongoing conflict with the Burma Army.
On Friday, the military-owned Myawady newspaper reported that Burma Army troops had traveled to secure the area around Mong Yaw village on June 25 because the TNLA and the Shan State Army-North had been recruiting locals.
This prompted a clash on the same day with the TNLA, Myawady reported. After the TNLA had been repelled, the bodies of the seven killed were “discovered” by Burma Army soldiers the following day. The TNLA issued a statement on Sunday denying that any fighting had taken place.
Gen Kyaw Kyaw Soe, who is based in the Northeastern Regional Command Center in Lashio, met with the families of five of the victims in Mong Yaw village, and gave each family 300,000 kyats (US$255)—“not as compensation, but as a ‘donation,’” said Sai Wann Lern Kham, an Upper House lawmaker from the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD).
The two young men killed while traveling by motorcycle—Naw Tin, 33, and Sai Hla, 30—were from Nan Yaw village, 40 miles from Mong Yaw in the west of Lashio Township. They were traveling to Mong Yaw to meet their wives who had been staying in the village.
The uncle of one of the victims searched for their burial site, but found only a hat and a shoe belonging to his nephew. The families of both victims then attempted to open a case at the Lashio Township police station, with the help of Sai Wann Lern Kham of the SNLD.
“The police let us open a missing persons case and we supplied photos of the victims,” the SNLD lawmaker said.
The police would not pursue allegations against the military in a “conflict zone”; even if they were to investigate, they would have to “pass it on later to the army,” the police explained. They said they would inform the Burma Army and “let them take action.”
Ethnic Shan, Ta’ang (Palaung) and Kachin youth associations based in Lashio issued a joint statement on Monday condemning the killings and laying the blame squarely with the Burma Army, who by “deliberately attacking innocent civilians” and “threatening their security” will “hurt the peace process in the country.”
The statement said killings would “hurt the dignity of the Burma Army and damage trust between the Burma Army and ethnic minority people,” thereby undermining the Union Peace Conference to be held in late August.
The youth associations called on the Burma Army to “stop brutally killing civilians” and implored them to investigate the Mong Yaw killings and take action against those responsible.
The Irrawaddy phoned Maj Gen Aung Ye Win, a spokesperson from Burma Army, but he would not comment on the issue and said he was in a meeting. Repeat calls went unanswered.