The Myanmar Army on Friday evening allowed a group of people to retrieve the bodies of two Kachin internally displaced persons who had disappeared in January, after local people reported discovering their bodies in a grave in Mansi Township. Army personnel had prevented the group from heading to the site for several hours earlier in the day.
The two IDPs disappeared on Jan. 31 while trying to return to their village from the Maing Hkawng IDP camp, and were reportedly last seen being detained by military personnel.
“They have all left the camp, as the army finally allowed them to go,” said Naw Mai, a community leader at the camp.
Some local people told The Irrawaddy that the Myanmar Army’s Infantry Battalion 206 had earlier blocked the group.
According to Naw Mai, an army captain was behind the original decision to prevent the group from leaving. “He said he was waiting for orders from his superiors. So, he did not let us go.”
However, the captain relented at 2 p.m. local time and allowed the group to travel the approximately 6 miles from the camp to the village where the two men were apparently killed, according to community leaders.
“The army said they would accompany the group part of the way, but would not make the entire trip,” Naw Mai said.
Hpaugan Yaw, 65, and Nhkum Naw San, 31, were last seen being detained at their village on Jan. 31 by Battalion 206 personnel, according to the IDPs’ families.
The group traveling to retrieve the bodies comprised more than 20 people including police, doctors with expertise in forensic medicine and community leaders from the IDP camp.
The gravesite was being guarded by 24 people, according to local sources. Police and medical specialists had instructed them not to disturb the bodies so that an investigation could be carried out.
Initially, the army refused to allow people from the camp even to search for the missing men, who had returned to their home village from the IDP camp to tend to their animals. They were among residents who were forced to flee the village to avoid fighting between the Myanmar Army and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA).
A group of people from the IDP camp went to search for the missing men on Friday without informing the army or telling them where they had found the bodies.
“We searched for them based on witness accounts. We found the two bodies just outside the village,” said Ann Kham, an IDP from the camp who was part of Friday’s search party.
“[The original discoverers of the bodies] cut down a small tree and put it on the grave. We weren’t sure about it, so we dug into the grave, and found the two bodies,” he said.
The grave contained two bodies — an older one underneath, and a younger one on top, he said.
Relatives of the two victims opened charges over the disappearance of the two persons at the police station in Mansi town, according to Hkun Nawng, a lawyer and Kachin Legal Aid Network official based in Myitkyina, the capital of Kachin State, who was helping to locate the missing pair.
“We will monitor how the police will build this case to charge the persons responsible for this murder. We are ready to help the police, too, if they need help with the investigation,” Hkun Nawng said.
Right abuses are a common occurrence in Kachin and northern Shan, which has been the scene of ongoing fighting between the Myanmar Army and ethnic rebels. There have been instances in the past of the army detaining, torturing and killing villagers suspected of being rebels.
The army has even blocked humanitarian aid from UN agencies intended for Kachin IDPs. Most IDPs rely on aid from local Kachin religious groups such as the Kachin Baptist Convention.
The Maing Hkawng IDP camp houses about 2,500 IDPs. Fighting broke out in the area in 2011, causing many people to flee their homes. Last year, about 50 IDPs attempted to return to their homes, but they were forced to return when fighting flared in January.
In January, six Myanmar Army soldiers were each sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment with hard labor for killing three IDPs from Maing Hkawng last year. The IDPs had been foraging for firewood in the forest.
The Kachin Independence Army has two bases in the area, housing its Battalion 12 and Battalion 27. The Tatmadaw has ordered the KIA to withdraw from these areas but it has refused, fueling the tension.