Ethnic Groups to Begin Search for Japanese War Dead

By Nyein Nyein 27 February 2013

CHIANG MAI, Thailand — Twelve ethnic armed groups from Burma will soon begin a year-long search for the remains of Japanese soldiers killed in the country during the Second World War.

The groups—the 11 members of the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), plus the Arakan Liberation Party—reached an agreement with the Chiang Mai-based Thai-Japan Education Development Foundation (TJEDF) in January to help locate the remains of some 45,000 Japanese war dead.

Tomoharu Ebihara, the foundation’s executive director, told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday that the groups will begin interviewing local villagers in their respective ethnic areas early next month in the hope of finding dead soldiers from Japan’s wartime Imperial Army.

“There are still 45,610 remains that have not yet been excavated,” said Ebihara, who added that 137,000 Japanese soldiers died in Burma during the war, of whom the remains of 91,390 have been successfully recovered.

“We suppose most of [the unrecovered remains] will be in ethnic areas,” said Ebihara, referring to areas that were previously inaccessible because of decades of conflict between Burma’s government and a host of ethnic insurgent armies.

The 12 groups will form survey teams that will spend the next year trying to collect information that may lead to the recovery of more remains. The TJEDF will provide training and equipment such as cameras for the interviewers.

“The survey team will interview and record the information of where they [the remains] are in our ethnic ceasefire areas,” said UNFC Secretary Khun Oakkar.

The TJEDF will later share the gathered information with the Japanese government, but won’t attempt to excavate the remains, which can only be done through government-to-government cooperation.

“This project is needed to clear the sad history of the war, and to increase the tie and friendship between Japan and Burma—not only with the central government, but also with the ethnic nationalities,” said Ebihara.

In addition to the groups that have already agreed to assist with the search for Japanese war dead, the  TJEDF is also negotiating with the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army and the Restoration Council of Shan State.

The TJEDF, formed in 2011 in Chiang Mai to provide educational support, is currently organizing agriculture development projects in ethnic Mon, Karen and Karenni areas of Burma.