YANGON—The Myanmar military (or Tatmadaw) has formed a team to investigate the deaths of civilians held in its custody, amid criticism over the rising number of civilian deaths during their military operations against the Arakan Army (AA) in war-torn Rakhine State.
An announcement from the Tatmataw’s True News Information Team on Friday said the investigation will cover the death of “some civilians” while in detention, plus an investigation of civilian deaths related to the AA and AA-affiliated suspects in four townships in northern Rakhine State.
To find the truth about the circumstances surrounding the deaths, relevant military command headquarters have formed a court of inquiry in accordance with Defense Services Rule 176, the statement said. The team began work on July 12.
The statement said the deaths occurred in Panmyaung Village of Minbya Township, Lakka Village of Mrauk-U Township, Kyauktan Village of Rathedaung Township, Minthataung Village of Kyauktaw Township and an area near Wethali Hsutaungpyae Pagoda in Mrauk-U Township—all in Rakhine State.
However, the statement did not reveal the total number of the civilians that have died while detained and investigated.
Military spokesman Brigadier-General Zaw Min Tun told the Irrawaddy that the investigation team will collect all testimonies from soldiers involved in the cases, and from the witnesses, including the civilians from the villages involved.
But he did not confirm the number of cases or the number of civilian deaths they will investigate.
He said the investigation period normally takes a maximum of two weeks.
“Based on the evidence we collect, we will decide whether we will take legal action or not,” Brig-Gen Zaw Min Tun said.
The Irrawaddy reported last week on the escalating criticism from lawmakers, lawyers and activists following the deaths of 14 civilians during or immediately after military detention on suspicion of having ties to the AA, including seven villagers from Kyauktan shot dead while in military custody earlier this year.
Last week, 28-year-old Ko Zaw Win Hline from Pauktaw Pyin Village in Mrauk-U died 10 days after being arrested by the military. In June, another civilian from the same village died after military detention. In late June, a man from Minthataung Village of Kyauktaw Township died in custody as the military rushed him to the hospital.
In April, three detainees in Mrauk-U died during military interrogations. They were among 27 people from Mrauk-U’s Let Kar Village accused of AA membership or affiliation and held captive by the military.
In early May, the Myanmar military detained 275 people from Kyauktan Village, in Rathedaung Township, in northern Rakhine State, for three days on suspicion of having ties with the AA. While detained, seven of them were shot and killed and eight others were injured. The military claims to have opened fire only when detainees tried to snatch guns from the soldiers.
Last month, the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission (MNHRC) submitted to the President the findings of its investigation of the Kyauktan incident but the commission declined to publicize the details of its recommendations. Later, the MNHRC told the media that there were no substantial differences from the Tatmadaw’s report on the incident and the commission’s investigation of the event, saying that the deaths were not tied to human rights violations.
In late May, U Zaw Htay, a spokesperson for the President’s Office, said twenty civilians have been killed in fighting between the Myanmar military and the AA between Jan 1. and May 27. However, the President’s Office did not clearly define how many died in military custody.
This story was updated at 5:17 p.m. to reflect late comments from Brig-Gen Zaw Min Tun.
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