Men Died in Army Detention, Cremated without Families’ Knowledge

By Moe Myint 26 April 2019

YANGON—Members of Myanmar’s military and police from northern Rakhine cremated the bodies of three men who died during military detention in the state capital of Sittwe, according to the relatives.

On Thursday, more than a dozen family members of the 27 detainees from Mrauk-U’s Let Kar Village travelled to Sittwe to meet with the house speaker San Kyaw Hla of Rakhine State parliament to inquire about the deaths of the three men, as well as the 24 others who are still being held by the military.

A total of 27 villagers were arrested by government soldiers from Light Infantry Division No. 22 and No. 55 on April 10 on suspicion of being members of the Arakan Army (AA). The arrests came soon after attacks carried out by the AA on two artillery bases on the outskirts of the town of Mrauk-U on April 9 killed around 20 government soldiers.

On Wednesday, 15 days after the attacks, military spokesman Brig-Gen Zaw Min Tun acknowledged to The Irrawaddy that the three men died during detention, saying that the causes of death were heart attack, suicide and drug addiction withdrawal.

Relatives also met the investigative officer from Sittwe Police Station No.1, who is now assigned to the case, as well as with responsible medical officers from Sittwe General Hospital. The Irrawaddy was able to speak to the relatives of two of the dead men over the phone on Friday.

Zaw Myo Tun’s relatives said he died on April 11, one day after being arrested, while the relatives of Thein Tun Sein died on April 14 after four days of military detention. The third man, Maung Than Nu, is said to have died on April 21.

A medical officer from Sittwe hospital confirmed to The Irrawaddy under the condition of anonymity that all three were dead before arriving at the hospital. The three bodies were classified as Police Ring and postmortem examinations were carried out on them in line with official procedures. Generally, the hospital does not carry out postmortems on bodies labelled Ordinary Ring.

Relatives and locals who met with investigative officer Myo Thant Sein at the Sittwe police station recalled that the bodies were cremated at Sittwe Cemetery, without elaborating on when the cremations took place. The medical officer also claimed that the remains of the bodies were retrieved by military soldiers after postmortem process.

Although relatives met with hospital superintendent Dr. Moe Myint Win on Thursday, he did not reveal the result of the medical reports, saying instead that he will testify when the case is in court. Sittwe’s forensic doctor Kyaw Tun Aung did not respond to calls made to his phone on Friday.

U Maung Tun Kyaing, father of Zaw Myo Tun who is from Kyauktaw Township explained that his son arrived back to his village from Thailand in February. On April 8, he travelled with his friend to Let Kar Village with the purpose of seeking a life partner.

“My son was healthy and strong man. How could he be dead like that?” said U Maung Tun Kyaing.

As the bodies were completely burnt, none of the family members were able to see whether there were external injuries on the bodies. U Maung Tun Kyaing, however, said police showed them pictures of the three dead men. He claims to have clearly seen bruises on the chest, face and arms of the men in the photo.

“I absolutely believe that my son died from torture,” he said.

Although he and other relatives have seen the photos provided by police, they are afraid to demand explations from the police.

“I was terribly scared of them,” said U Maung Tun Kyaing.

Maung Nyunt Tha, a relative of Thein Tun Sein, said that he could not determine a possible cause of death for his father-in-law as his body was clothed. He said, however, that the face of Thein Tun Sein appeared to be swollen. Meanwhile the police have opened an initial case of fatal death.

The military’s Western Command’s Col. Win Zaw Oo said the bodies were transferred to hospital for the fatal death postmortem examination process. When asked about the cremation of the bodies, he said “I don’t think they have offhandedly done that.”

Although The Irrawaddy contacted the investigation officer Myo Thant Sein for his comments on the case on Friday, the calls went unanswered.

Lawmaker U Kyee Myint of the Myanmar Lawyers’ Network (MLN) explained to The Irrawaddy that police are not granted by law or police procedure to cremate bodies without returning them to the relatives. He recalled similar extrajudicial killing patterns during the 1962 Rangoon University protests against Ne Win’s military regime. At that time, Ne Win’s troops violently killed unarmed students and burned their bodies before burying them at Kyan Taw Cemetery without returning them to their relatives.

“It violates the Penal Code,” said U Kyee Myint.

He suggested that the government grant legal aid to the family members of the victims for the prosecution of the perpetrators.