SITTWE, Rakhine State—Relatives of 18 villagers abducted by Myanmar’s military (Tatmadaw) from Tinma Village in Kyauktaw Township of Rakhine State still do not have a clue about their whereabouts more than 300 days after they were taken from their homes.
Troops of the Tatmadaw’s Light Infantry Division No. 55 deployed on Taungshae Mountain near Tinma Village detained eight villagers from “new” Tinma Village on March 13 and 10 people from Tinmagyi Village on March 16, according to the detainees’ families.
Other residents fled their homes in the wake of the abductions. Three villagers who stayed behind to take care of village property also went missing, said residents.
At least 500 houses were set ablaze in abandoned villages on March 22. Myanmar’s military, however, denied villagers’ accusations that the military was responsible for the arson.
Relatives of abductees filed complaints with Kyauktaw Township police, and lawmakers of Kyauktaw Township sent letters in late March to the President, the State Counselor, the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission (MNHRC) and the Office of the Commander-in-Chief of Defense Services, seeking an investigation.
But nothing happened.
The MNHRC replied to lawmakers in the last week of November, saying that the Defense Ministry denied that the military was involved in the abduction of Tinma villagers. Lower House lawmaker U Oo Tun Win of Kyauktaw questioned the credibility of the commission’s report, since the commission did not make an effort to speak with relatives of the abductees, but merely echoed the reply of Myanmar’s military.
In an interview with The Irrawaddy on Dec. 30, MNHRC chairman U Hla Myint said, “We have asked the Defense Ministry about the case, and it replied that there are some differences between the accounts of villagers and what really happened. We gave that reply to the concerned persons. [The investigation] of the Tinma Village case is over now.”
He said the MNHRC is unable to investigate on the ground due to COVID-19 travel restrictions. “For the time being, we can only convey the reply of one side to the other side. The Tatmadaw said they didn’t do that.”
Relatives went to the Kyauktaw Township police station on Dec. 8 and left their complaints with a police clerk. When they went to the police station a week later, they were told by the head of the police station, Police Captain Thura Tun, that the police clerk had been transferred and the dossiers had also gone missing.
“We police are not authorized to handle such cases. We have told the villagers again and again that we can’t open cases because the events happened in operational areas of the Tatmadaw. They can file complaints with the relevant military battalions and units and the border affairs minister,” Thura Tun told The Irrawaddy on Dec. 18.
Lawyer U Zaw Zaw Min of the Arakan Human Rights Defenders and Promoters Association said police should open cases upon receiving complaints.
“If complaints from people asking for justice went missing, the policeman who is responsible must be punished. Only doing so will remedy justice. It is irresponsible of the police to say that complaints went missing. If police do so, people will lack trust in the law,” U Zaw Zaw Min told The Irrawaddy.
Kin of the abductees said they were asked by the Mrauk-U District police chief’s office on Dec. 29 about the incident.
“We were asked from where they were abducted, and who the abductees are. We told them that they were abducted from villages by Division 55, and we saw the Division 55 logo on their arms. Police said they sought instructions from above, and that they would do their best,” said Daw Ma Win Kyi, sister of one of the abductees.
She said the relatives were not told who gave the instruction for questioning.
The Irrawaddy attempted to contact Police Lieutenant Colonel Zaw Zaw Nay Hein, chief of the Mrauk-U District police force, several times, but he did not pick up the phone.
Rakhine State government spokesman U Win Myint told The Irrawaddy he did not know about the case. The Irrawaddy was also unable to contact the state minister for border affairs and security, Colonel Min Than.
Myanmar military spokesman Major General Zaw Min Tun said at the Tatmadaw press conference on Nov. 27 in Naypyitaw that Tinma villagers could file complaints with the relevant departments in line in with law.
At a Tatmadaw press conference on Dec. 30, Maj-Gen Zaw Min Tun said relatives of the abductees, if they suspect the Tatmadaw, could talk to relevant command and battalions in the region and could file complaints if they have strong evidence.
“I am not saying the Tatmadaw did not make arrests. We have known nothing about the incident. There are places where the villagers can file complaints with strong evidence. They can file complaints freely with those places,” said the military spokesman.
Director U Aung Myo Min of the Gender Equality Network said he understands that the MNHRC faces certain difficulties when conducting investigations during COVID-19, but the commission should find ways and means with full responsibility and accountability to establish the truth, because this case was not an ordinary human rights violation.
“The commission should make an investigation anyway. Submitting a report to the government is not enough. It also has a responsibility to provide input from legal and human rights perspectives about what actions must be taken in response,” he said.
Relatives hope that abductees are safe and will be able to return soon.
“We have filed complaints with all the departments possible. But we still don’t have any information about my husband and other villagers. I have children to care for and have no source of income. I hope my husband is released soon,” Daw Moe Hnin Nwe, wife of one of the detainees, told The Irrawaddy.
Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko
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