YANGON — The Myanmar National Human Rights Commission (MNHRC) has concluded that two Kachin men whose bodies were found in March were rebel fighters and killed in battle with the Myanmar military, or Tatmadaw, contradicting claims by locals that they were arrested and executed.
According to the NGO Fortify Rights, Hpaugan Yaw, 65, and Nhkum Naw San, 35 — residents of the Maing Hkawng IDP camp in Kachin State’s Mansi Township — were last seen on Jan. 31 in the custody of Tatmadaw soldiers. Their bodies were found in a grave on March 8 by local residents.
In a statement delivered to the state’s Lower House of Parliament on May 21, the MNHRC said the two men were members of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and were killed during fighting with the Tatmadaw. Local lawmakers had asked the commission to look into the deaths.
According to the MNHRC, the Defense Ministry claimed that Tatmadaw soldiers were patrolling in Mansi on Jan. 31 when they were attacked my four KIA fighters while inspecting a hut and returned fire, killing the two men.
The commission said the Tatmadaw reported that its soldiers found military equipment, bullets and a phone at the scene and buried the two fighters, one of whom was wearing military-style green fatigues and the other the uniform of the KIA.
According to the MNHRC, Tatmadaw Colonel Myint Hein met with relatives of the dead men to explain that they were killed in battle, showing them photos of the dead bodies to make his point, and that the relatives said they believed him.
The Tatmadaw’s account, and the commission’s statement, contradicts reports from locals, who claim the two men were arrested while tending their water buffalo.
A leader of the Maing Hkawng IDP camp said he and two fellow camp leaders met with the MNHRC in Yangon on May 22 to share evidence that the men were not killed in battle and to urge the commission to visit Mansi to conduct its own investigation.
“What we saw on the ground and from the two dead bodies contradict the MNHRC statement in many ways. It wrote the statement based only on one side, the army’s side,” said the man, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal from the Tatmadaw.
“They said yes to an investigation, and they may do it this month,” he added.
Two local women claim to have seen Tatmadaw soldiers take the two men into custody on Jan. 31.
Once the bodies were found on March 8, soldiers prevented locals from gathering at the site for several hours.
After a group of local authorities, police, community leaders and relatives of the victims did arrive and were allowed access, Nhkum Naw San was found in a KIA uniform and Hpaugan Yaw was dressed as a civilian, said Naw Mai, another leader of the IDP camp.
“Both of them were civilians, but they [the Tatmadaw] put a KIA uniform on Nhkum Naw San’s dead body,” he claimed.
A medical report obtained by The Irrawaddy says Nhkum Naw San died from a bullet to the head and that Hpaugan Yaw, who had a broken skull and jaw, may have died from torture.
A relative of the dead men, Kaw Awng, has filed a complaint with local police accusing the Tatmadaw of murder. The Tatmadaw then filed its own case against Kaw Awng, accusing her of unlawful association with the KIA.