NAYPYITAW—Deputy Minister for Defense Lieutenant-General Sein Win has promised there would be an investigation into the incident in which six locals in Rakhine State’s Rathedaung Township were shot dead by soldiers of the Myanmar military, or Tatmadaw, during detention.
The deputy minister told reporters after an advisory forum on national reconciliation and peace held in Naypyitaw on Tuesday that an investigation is ongoing.
“We will investigate if the interrogation was conducted in line with procedures. We will take harsh actions if there was a violation of the rules of engagement. For the time being, I can’t tell what actions will be taken. We’ll wait and see the [results] of the investigation procedure. Actions will be taken in line with the law,” said the deputy minister.
Military spokesperson Brigadier-General Zaw Min Tun said that an investigative body was formed on Friday with five individuals led by a senior military officer, and that community elders, departmental officials and security forces would be questioned.
“We have not set the deadline for the investigation, but according to procedures, the report has to be submitted within two weeks of the [completion of the] investigation,” said Brig-Gen Zaw Min Tun.
On April 30, military troops arrived at Kyauktan Village in Rathedaung and summoned all male residents above the age of 15. They then interrogated 275 people at the local school on suspicion of having ties to the Arakan Army (AA).
Six locals were shot dead while in military detention at around 2:00 a.m. on Thursday in an incident which, according to the military, happened after the detainees attempted to snatch guns from the soldiers.
Eight others were wounded and four are missing, a military press release said.
Meanwhile, however, the detainees who were injured in the incident and admitted to Sittwe General Hospital have given a different account. According to them, one man who was frightened during the ongoing detention jumped over the fence and escaped.
Soldiers fired at the escapee and more than 200 others stood up to see what was happening. Unexpectedly, soldiers surrounded them from both sides and fired into the crowd, they said.
Of the 275 detainees, 126 were released on May 2 and 48 on May 6. With six shot dead, eight receiving treatment in hospital in Sittwe, and four missing, 83 are being held by the military at present, said Brig-Gen Zaw Min Tun.
Rathedaung Township Lower House lawmaker Daw Khin Saw Wai encouraged the government to make the investigation into the case, expressing her doubts about the military’s explanation of the events.
Locals said that Buddhist funeral rites were also denied for the victims.
“They should be allowed to be cremated according to Buddhist funeral rites. [Their family members] are quite sad that the funeral rites were not conducted,” Daw Khin Saw Wai told The Irrawaddy.
An influential Buddhist monk from Sittwe was allowed to see the detainees on Monday, and Daw Khin Saw Wai and a party are travelling to Kyauktan Village on Tuesday with the approval of the government.
Civilians have been detained by both the military and Arakan Army troops in the clashes.
Brig-Gen Zaw Min Tun told reporters on May 3 that the AA has detained 134 civilians.
On Tuesday, Human Rights Watch called for the Myanmar authorities to independently investigate the killing of the detainees, despite the military having formed their own team to investigate the incident. The rights group said the army has a long history of failing to effectively or credibly investigate alleged abuses by its own forces and rarely holds military personnel accountable.
“The Myanmar military concedes that they killed six villagers that they were holding in Rakhine State, but only a genuinely independent investigation will get to the bottom of what happened,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “An independent and impartial investigation is needed to bring to justice anyone responsible for wrongdoing.”