Burma Army Soldiers Confess at Court Martial to Killing Civilians

By Lawi Weng 10 August 2016

Seven Burma Army soldiers, including four commissioned officers, accused of murdering five civilians in Mong Yaw Village of Lashio Township in late June were brought before a court martial at North Eastern Command headquarters in Lashio, northern Shan state on Tuesday.

At the court session, the first in this high-profile case, the four commissioned officers admitted giving the orders to kill the villagers, while the lower-ranking soldiers admitted to carrying them out, according to a translator employed at the hearing.

Uncharacteristically for military tribunals in Burma, where even verdicts are generally not shared with the public, the session was open for family members of the murdered villagers to observe.

It is also rare to see commissioned officers brought before tribunals for abuses against civilians.

Sai Lao Pha, who translated into Shan for the family members in attendance, told The Irrawaddy that the three lower-ranking soldiers “told the court that, while dressed in army camouflage fatigues, they used knives to kill the five local men.”

These three soldiers—two sergeants, Sein Win Maung and Maung Ohn, and one corporal, Maung Maung Htwe—stated that they had been acting under orders from superior officers. Sgt. Sein Win Maung alone protested that this made him not guilty of murder.

The four commissioned officers—one colonel, Myo Aung, two majors, Tin Myo Zaw and Aung Nay Myo, and one captain from Military Intelligence, Lin Naing Soe—confessed to being guilty.

Twelve people from among the murdered villagers’ families attended the session, where they were not asked to speak. The session lasted between 10 am and 6 pm. Although the trial will continue, no dates for future sessions have been set.

After the bodies of the five villagers were discovered by local residents buried near their village of Mong Yaw in Lashio Township, blame quickly fell on soldiers from the Burma Army’s Light Infantry Battalion 362, who were seen leading the villagers away for questioning on June 25. The soldiers were in the vicinity due to reports than an ethnic rebel army was recruiting locals.

In an unprecedented admission, Lt-Gen Mya Tun Oo of the Burma Army confirmed at a press conference in Rangoon on July 20 that the army was responsible for the five civilian deaths, and said that “action” would be taken against the soldiers involved.

On July 3, the deputy commander of the Burma Army’s North Eastern Command compensated the families of the five victims to the amount of 300,000 kyats (US$250) each.

The Burma Army also stands accused by locals of shooting dead two young men riding motorbikes not far from the village on the same day. The Burma Army have countered that they had died in the crossfire between the Burma Army and an unspecified ethnic rebel group.

Earlier this week, authorities in Lashio Township exhumed all seven bodies in Mong Yaw Village. Township police claimed to have opened their own murder case.