Group Alleges Burma Army Rights Abuses in Kokang

By Nang Seng Nom 10 March 2015

RANGOON — An ethnic organization has accused the Burma Army of perpetrating human rights abuses in northern Shan State, where fighting over the last several weeks has flared between the government and ethnic Kokang rebels.

Testimony alleging human rights violations at the hands of the Burma Army was collected by Shan State’s Kachin National Network, from local residents in Hsenwi, Kut Khaing, Namtu, and Pansai townships, and was shared at a press conference in Rangoon over the weekend.

The press conference covered alleged human rights violations during fighting between government troops and armed ethnic groups from Jan. 19 to March 5.

Ai Z Aung from the Kachin National Network said the group had documented more than 10 cases of human rights violations during the fighting.

“We have reported the cases to concerned authorities. According to our survey, it was the government army that violated human rights,” said Ai Z Aung, alleging that government troops seized household articles from locals, tortured them, raped women and forcibly conscripted men to serve as porters, while innocent civilians were killed in indiscriminate firing by the Burma Army.

Division Nos. 88, 33, 11, troops under the Northeast Command and Light Infantry Battalion No. 58 were stationed in the area, according to the network.

Information Minister Ye Htut told The Irrawaddy that any accusations of Burma Army malfeasance could be addressed through established complaint mechanisms.

“If there were such acts by the army, you can complain to the National Human Rights Commission and concerned military heads. We do not accept at all the army violating human rights in conflict regions. You can file a complaint if you have strong evidence,” said Ye Htut, who also serves as presidential spokesman.

Ye Htut said rather than pointing the finger of blame at the army alone, the conduct of ethnic rebel groups in the area—including the Kokang group known as Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and Kachin Independence Army (KIA)—should also be scrutinized.

The government has alleged that a Red Cross aid convoy that was attacked by unknown assailants on Feb. 17 was carried out by the MNDAA and its allies, a charge that the rebels deny.

Kutkhaing local Dwe Li said he was detained and interrogated by government troops after he took a photo of shrapnel from two bombs dropped near a Catholic church in the town.

“They covered my head with a shirt and asked me why I took the photo. They threatened to kill me if I didn’t answer,” he told The Irrawaddy.

Buak Nam from Nam Phet Ka village in Kutkhaing said: “Shells were dropped in our village on Feb. 16 and houses were damaged and four villagers were injured. They are still receiving medical treatment at Muse Hospital. We want a safe place. Soldiers went door-to-door grabbing things from villagers.”

The Myanmar National Human Rights Commission said it had not received any complaints about human rights violations in northern Shan State.

“I found some news reports [about human rights violations during the fighting]. But the complaint must state clearly which side is responsible for those [violations],” Sitt Myaing, vice chairman of the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission, told The Irrawaddy.

The Kachin National Network said it sent a letter on March 3 to the president and the commander-in-chief of the army, urging them to de-escalate fighting in residential areas, prioritize protection of civilians and refrain from human rights abuses. The letter also called for punitive action to be taken in accordance with the law in cases of human rights violations.

Hostilities between the Burma Army and MNDAA began on Feb. 9 in Laukkai and the surrounding Kokang Special Region. Dozens of soldiers on both sides have been killed, and a civilian casualty toll is unknown.