Burma Army Shot, Tortured Kokang Civilians During Conflict: Rights Group

By Lawi Weng 5 March 2015

RANGOON — The Shan Human Rights Foundation has alleged that the Burma Army killed, injured and tortured at least 10 ethnic Kokang civilians while it was fighting Kokang rebels in the Kokang Special Region in northern Shan State last month.

The group said in a briefing released on Wednesday that it conducted interviews with victims, witnesses and family members of the victims to document five cases of gross rights violations by soldiers from Feb. 13-19, when fighting raged in Laukkai Township, the administrative center of the Kokang region.

The group said these individual cases probably represented only a small part of the number of abuses committed against civilians during the conflict, adding that eye witnesses had seen at least a dozen dead bodies of civilians lying in the streets.

The foundation called on the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Burma Yanghee Lee “to visit the Kokang area as soon as possible to monitor the human rights situation there, and push for accountability for abuses that have taken place.”

The Kokang rebels, for their part, were accused by authorities last month of opening fire and injuring volunteer aid workers on Burmese Red Cross convoys that were bringing displaced civilians to safety.

Fighting between the Kokang rebels, known as the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), and the army escalated on Feb. 9. Tens of thousands of civilians fled to China and about 10,000 headed south toward central Burma.

The Shan organization’s spokesperson, Nang Kwarn Lake, told The Irrawaddy that interviews with Kokang refugees were conducted at a camp in China. “The victims reported to us that the Burmese Army shot and tortured them,” she said. “We even asked whether Kokang rebels also shot civilians, but they said no.”

In the most serious case it documented, the organization said soldiers had shot dead a couple—Kokang woman Chen Xing Zi, 48, and her Chinese husband Yang Er, 33—after they had briefly returned from China, to where they had fled, in order to fee their pigs at their home near Laukkai.

As they drove on an army-controlled road between Laukkai and the Chinese border on Feb. 13 they were shot dead, presumably by government forces, the rights group said.

Later, “members of the family saw pictures of the dead couple lying in the road on social media. On February 14, a relative went with three other people to collect the bodies and cremate them at the border,” the organization said, citing accounts by family members. “The wife had been shot in her thigh, her arm and her back. The man had been shot in the head, and also in the side.”

In another case, the group documented indiscriminate shooting by the army at a car travelling from Laukkai to China on Feb. 13, injuring two Kokang women in the foot and the leg. One of the victims, named Nai Nai and aged 76, told the foundation that soldiers later came to the vehicle, which had its tires punctured by gunfire, asking them why they had been travelling on the road.

The foundation also alleged that four male Kokang men from a village one mile west of Laukkai had been arrested by a group of soldiers who were searching their village on Feb. 19 and taken to a nearby regional operation command base. They were reportedly kept for one night and beaten during interrogation by soldiers, who asked them if they were hiding any weapons. Three of them were then released, but the fourth man was detained and has not been heard from since.

Haw Shauk Chan, an Upper House lawmaker with the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party who represents Kunlong Township, an area which border Laukkai Township, said in a reaction to the allegations that he was concerned about the abuses against and killing of civilians, adding that he heard dozens of civilians were killed in the conflict.

“About 60 people were killed. Some children were only 10 years old, older people also were killed; some were over 70 years old. They were shot and died during the fighting,” he said, although he stopped short of casting blame for the deaths.

“We do not know who killed them. They were in the middle of fighting between armed groups. Many of them were killed in the town [Laukkai], our people burned their dead bodies,” said Haw Shauk Chan, who is himself an ethnic Shan.

Sitt Myaing, joint chairman of the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission, told The Irrawaddy that he was concerned about the reports of civilian deaths, adding that the commission would investigate the claims if an official complaint was filed with it.

“We were sad to see civilians were killed. They are our ethnic [citizens]. We do not have information about who killed them,” he said.

Asked if the commission would visit the area soon, Sitt Myaing said, “The area still has fighting, it’s not safe for us. So we don’t have a plan to go there for our investigation,” adding that no complaints had been filed yet.

Civil society groups have criticized the commission in the past, saying it has failed to properly investigate any complaint filed with it since it was set up by the President’s Office in 2011. The commission chairman has previously said that abuses conducted in conflict areas or in communal-violence wracked Arakan State are not within its mandate of investigation.