Sources in northern Shan State’s Kyaukme Township have said that three men killed by the Burma Army were not members of the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), as they had been accused, and were in fact local villagers.
The casualties included Win Kyaing, 39 years old, San Win, 37 years old, and Aike Lon, 33 years old. Locals said they often worked as drivers in the township.
Win Kyaing was ethnic Bamar, from Shwebo Township in Sagaing Division. Both San Win and Aike Lon were ethnic Shan from Kyaukme Township.
Locals have accused the Burma Army Light Infantry Battalion 502, under the control of Military Operation Command 1 and based in Kyaukme’s Mann San village, of killing the three men on April 9, following fighting in the area between the Burma Army and the TNLA.
Kyaukme is located within a conflict area, where clashes are known to break out between the TNLA and the Burma Army, or with the Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State Army-South. Locals told The Irrawaddy that when armed groups ask for help, civilians “cannot refuse.”
The TNLA’s Brig-Gen Tar Phone Kyaw told The Irrawaddy that the three victims were in fact civilians, but that TNLA troops had asked them to drive trucks to transport their soldiers. Fighting then began while they were en route to their destination, he explained, during which members of the Burma Army killed the drivers.
Burial of the Victims
Sai Htun Nyan, a Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD) lawmaker in Kyaukme town, told The Irrawaddy that once the fighting had ceased, Burma Army soldiers asked locals to bury three members of the TNLA killed in the clash.
“When we went to bury the three bodies, we found that those victims were villagers, not members of the TNLA,” he said. “We asked the Burmese army to let us bring back those three bodies to our town, but they did not let us. They just told us to bury them. We did not know what to do, and buried the bodies there,” adding that, “many people here are afraid to talk about it.”
However, Sai Htun Nyan said he did not know why the three deceased men were wearing uniforms from the TNLA when they were brought for burial.
The Irrawaddy witnessed video footage reportedly taken just before the burial, showing the three victims’ bodies—all of whom had head wounds and wore camouflage shirts bearing the TNLA logo, but longyis typically worn by civilians. However, despite the head wounds, there appeared to be no blood visible on the clothes.
Family members and friends of the victims came to the burial. U Thein Tun, who owns the tea factory where Win Kyaing worked, helped make merit on behalf of his deceased worker, said Sai Htun Nyan.
The Irrawaddy attempted to talk to U Thein Tun, who he said that the police were investigating Win Kyaing’s death, but did not want to comment further, fearing his own security and safety.
SNLD lawmaker Sai Htun Nyan said that he informed the police about the three men’s deaths, but that he was not able to initiate a new case looking into the incident, because he could not transport the bodies to the hospital in Kyaukme town so that autopsies could be performed.
The Irrawaddy asked police Col U Win Khaing, stationed in Kyaukme town, about a potential investigation, but he said that the deaths had occurred in a warzone where even the police are not safe.
“Their death was in a conflict area. It was in the jungle. There is no security for our police there—no one dares to go there,” Col U Win Khaing admitted. “No one even came to file charges at our police station.”
“It is hard to know whether they were civilians or not, as their death was in a fighting zone. It is hard to even investigate it. But, we heard that they were Palaung,” he said, using another term for the ethnic Ta’ang—a reference to the TNLA armed group.
U Hla Kyaw, a Kyaukme resident who was a neighbor of the late San Win, said that the 37-year-old had often stayed at his agricultural plot outside of the town, but that he would return to his house in Kyaukme to visit his wife.
San Win had a child, he said, adding that as an ethnic Shan man, he could not have been a member of the TNLA.