Memorial Service Held in Rangoon to Mark One Year Since Teachers’ Murders

By Lawi Weng 19 January 2016

RANGOON — A memorial service was held in Rangoon on Tuesday to mark one year since the brutal rape and murder of two ethnic Kachin schoolteachers in a remote village in Shan State.

Zinghtung La, the head of Kaung Kha village in Muse Township where the two young women were found dead on the morning of Jan. 20 last year, spoke at Tuesday’s service, held at a Christian church in Rangoon and attended by some 500 people, including members of the victims’ families.

The village head spoke of the elusive fight for justice in the case that shocked his small community.

Many believe the crime was perpetrated by active-duty Burma Army soldiers and Zinghtung La recalled an army commander asking him information about the two women on the night they were killed.

“The commander from the Burmese Army asked me whether the two teachers were single or married and whether they were Kachin women. I told him that the two girls were Kachin, [that] one was single and the other was not. I noticed his soldier wrote down information when I talked,” Zinghtung La told The Irrawaddy.

When the two teachers, both 20 years old, were found dead in their shared dormitory the following day, Zinghtung La said the commander wanted to leave the village immediately.

In a report released on Tuesday, the Kachin Women’s Association of Thailand (KWAT) and the Lawyer’s Action Network (LAN) detailed key evidence they contend implicates senior military officials in obstructing justice.

The groups’ claim the commander of troops stationed in Kaung Kha and his superiors “blocked and subverted the police investigation into the crime.”

Zinghtung La said the incident occurred on the very night Burmese troops arrived in the village.

“Usually our Kachin people are afraid of the Burmese Army. No one would dare to go out at night when the army was in the village. Not only humans but even dogs dare not go out,” he said.

Hundreds of ethnic Kachin attended Tuesday’s service to pray for the victims and the media was invited to join a press conference where members of a local investigation team discussed the case. Representatives said the government had prevented their team from interviewing key persons, including military personnel and three drivers.

Lawyer Brang Dee, who is part of the investigation team set up by the Kachin Baptist Convention (KBC), said the team did not have the authority to speak with persons of interest.

“[If] they let our team talk to their [military] men and car drivers, then our work would be done,” he said.

Rev. Samson of the KBC suggested international involvement should be sought to examine key DNA evidence.

“For us, we do not know a lot about DNA. But we have kept some evidence for [testing]. The government took hair samples and other evidence but we noticed they did not take sperm [samples] from the bodies,” he said.

“We will ask help from the United States for DNA testing,” he said.

No results of the victims’ cause of death have been released by the authorities, one year on.

Shortly after the crime, a military-owned newspaper announced that the investigation did not implicate Burma Army soldiers and threatened legal action against those who claimed otherwise.

Kachin community leaders said they would lobby the incoming National League for Democracy-led government to take up the case.

“We expect our family will see justice soon,” said a young family member of one of the victims.