Burma Army Soldiers Sentenced to Five Years With Hard Labor for Killing Civilians

By Lawi Weng 16 September 2016

RANGOON — A court martial on Thursday at the North Eastern Command headquarters in Lashio, northern Shan State found seven soldiers guilty of murdering five civilians in Mong Yaw village in June this year.

They have been stripped of their positions and sentenced to five years in prison with hard labor.

Four commissioned officers were included in the sentencing, which took place at 12 p.m. according to Wann Lern Kham, a Shan Nationalities League for Democracy lawmaker from Lashio who has been assisting the victims’ families.

“The victims’ families were invited to attend court, where each of the soldiers were sentenced to five years,” he said.

The length of the sentence and lack of compensation was met with criticism in Lashio. The five victims were all breadwinners and some of the victims’ families had expected compensation.

“At the court on Thursday, we did not dare say anything even though we were unhappy with the length of the sentence,” Aye Lwart, a wife of one of the victims told The Irrawaddy. “On top of that, we did not even receive any compensation from the army.”

However, Wann Lern Kham said, “The best punishment is that they have had their identities exposed and that high ranking officers have been removed from their positions.”

This was the second session in this high-profile court martial. At the first court session, 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—both sessions were open to the victims’ families to observe.

The five civilian residents of Mong Yaw village were arrested at their farm in late June and taken to an unknown location by soldiers from the Burma Army Light Infantry Battalion 362, according to the victims’ families, who found their bodies the next day buried by a corn field at the bottom of a nearby mountain.

One of the soldiers sentenced to murder admitted forcing the victims to wear rebel uniforms before killing them.

At the initial court hearing in August, Sgt Sein Win Maung alone protested that he was not guilty of murder as he stated that he acted under orders from superior officers. Another sergeant, Maung Ohn, and a corporal, Maung Maung Htwe, pleaded guilty.

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—plead guilty.

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 were killed in the crossfire between the Burma Army and an unspecified ethnic armed group.

Northern Shan State has Burma’s highest concentration of ethnic armed groups in conflict with the Burma Army. Fighting involves the Ta’ang National Liberation Army, the Shan State Army-North, the Kachin Independence Army and the Myanmar Nationalities Democratic Alliance Army.

In its counter insurgency campaigns, the Burma Army has been accused of detaining, torturing and murdering civilians accused of supporting rebel groups, and forcing others to work as porters.