Myanmar Military Arrests Soldiers for Killing Unarmed Karen Woman

By Nyein Nyein 21 July 2020

The Myanmar military has arrested two of its soldiers and says it will take harsh action against them after ethnic Karen civil society groups condemned the soldiers’ killing of a Karen woman in Papun District, Karen State last Thursday.

Naw Mu Naw, 40, was the mother of three teenagers and was killed by two soldiers from the military’s Light Infantry Battalion 409 on July 16 in her home in Po Lo Hta Village, Dweh Lo Township. The soldiers also took her gold jewelry.

On Monday, the Karen National Union (KNU) Concerned Group, Karen Peace Support Network and Karen Human Rights Group condemned the soldiers’ actions, saying Naw Mu Naw was killed without reason. Her family called for the soldiers responsible to be punished.

Naw Zipporah Sein, spokesperson of the KNU Concerned Group, told The Irrawaddy “We don’t accept such arbitrary killings against our people. Such crimes, including looting and rape cases, happen often in areas in Rakhine, Kachin, Chin and Shan states. These need to stop.”

The military’s Tatmadaw Information Team said in a statement online Monday night that privates Than Soe Lwin and Hein Min Htet murdered the woman and looted her property in Po Lo Hta Village on the morning of July 16. It said the soldiers were drunk and that they shot her in her head and back when Than Soe Lwin was stealing her gold necklace. The pair is now in military custody at the Bilin cantonment area in Mon State and they have confessed to the crime.

“Actions will be taken effectively and transparently,” the military said on its website. The statement added that a court martial will also take action against those in charge at the battalion level for failing to report the two soldiers’ crimes.

The civil society groups said local residents are opposed to the military’s presence.

“The Burma army post in the area makes the lives of local people very difficult,” said Naw Mu Naw’s husband, Saw Pu Aye, according to Karen Peace Support Network. “People live in fear of the soldiers and can’t move around freely to work and farm. Local people want the Burma army to withdraw from their areas and [want] their military bases removed.”

Military tensions have become common in Papun, which is under the control of KNU Brigade 5, due to the Myanmar military’s reconstruction of a road in the area since 2018. The KNU, an ethnic armed group, signed the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement in 2015 but the military and KNU troops still come into conflict in disputes over the control of the territory.

The family of Naw Mu Naw and Karen human rights groups also called for the Myanmar military to stop the killings of any more civilians and called for her killers’ trials to be transparent.

They also urged the international community to take action against the Myanmar military to stop them from killing civilians.

Karen Peace Support Network added that military killings of ethnic civilians “with impunity” are a common pattern across the country.

“Living in a ceasefire area is no guarantee of safety,” the human rights group said in its statement. “Even where there are high profile cases which pressure the military to take action, trials are held in secrecy, any punishment is often secret and it is not known if soldiers convicted of these types of crimes even serve their sentences. An approach like this from the top of the military encourages soldiers to feel that they can get away with such crimes.”

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