Myanmar Military Demands Return of Two Soldiers Who Confessed to Rohingya Atrocities

By The Irrawaddy 14 September 2020

A spokesman for the Myanmar military said two army privates who were taken to The Hague, the Netherlands, after allegedly confessing to committing atrocities against Rohingya civilians should be returned to Myanmar.

Last week, confessions made by the two soldiers while they were in the custody of the Arakan Army (AA), in which they reportedly admitted to involvement in atrocities against Rohingya during the military’s 2017 “clearance operations” in northern Rakhine State in western Myanmar, were made public by rights group Fortify Rights. The group also said the two soldiers were now in The Hague, where they were believed to be in the custody of the International Criminal Court (ICC).

The two were filmed separately making the confessions in July by the AA, an ethnic armed group that is currently engaged in active military operations against the Tatmadaw in northern Rakhine State. The AA shared the confessions with Fortify Rights, which published details of the privates’ admissions last week.

As long as Myanmar’s civilian and military courts are functioning normally, taking two soldiers to face trial or serve as witnesses at the ICC is an “intervention in the national judicial process,” said Myanmar military spokesman Major General Zaw Min Tun.

“The two soldiers were arrested and have been sent there, therefore they should be returned to Myanmar and to the military,” he told The Irrawaddy.

He said the military’s court of inquiry into the alleged Rakhine atrocities had already begun, and he urged anyone with evidence of human rights violations to send them to the military (or Tatmadaw) via email, telephone or post.

The spokesman said the government and Tatmadaw are taking steps to ensure accountability, including opening courts-martial to prosecute those involved in atrocities against Rohingya, as recommended by the government-backed Independent Commission of Enquiry (ICOE).

In a report issued early this year the ICOE said government security forces’ clearance operations in Rakhine didn’t have “genocidal intent”, contradicting the findings of UN investigators. But it admitted that “war crimes, serious human rights violations, and violations of domestic law took place” against the Rohingya.

The two former soldiers, Myo Win Tun, 33, from Light Infantry Battalion (LIB) 565, and Zaw Naing Tun, 30, from LIB 353, confessed in the videos shot by the AA to taking part in atrocities committed by the Myanmar army against Rohingya people in 2017.

The soldiers were recorded as saying they were involved in killing more than 180 Rohingya men, women and children in Taung Buzar and surrounding villages in Buthidaung and five villages in Maungdaw during military operations in late 2017. Myo Win Tun from LIB 565 also admitted to committing rape in Taung Buzar Village.

The military clearance operations, in which disproportionate force was used, followed the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA)’s coordinated attacks on 30 police outposts on Aug. 25, 2017, which killed at least a dozen security personnel. The military operations caused a mass exodus of Rohingya to neighboring Bangladesh.

Fortify Rights urged that the two privates be swiftly prosecuted and then  made to testify as witnesses to the Tatmadaw’s atrocities against Rohingya.

However, the military spokesman last week cast doubt on the authenticity of the soldiers’ admissions, saying they were probably made under duress.

Major General Zaw Min Tun insisted the privates were arrested before being sent to the Netherlands, contradicting the AA’s claim that they deserted from the military in May and June respectively.

The major general said certain groups involved in the matter had provided the soldiers with passports and visas, but did not identify the groups.

Fortify Rights said last week the two deserters arrived at Myanmar’s border with Bangladesh in mid-August and asked Bangladesh authorities for protection. Bangladesh officials then notified the ICC about their presence, and the two men are currently under a global witness protection program in The Hague.

Myanmar is currently fighting a lawsuit filed by Gambia at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague alleging genocide against the Rohingya. State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi defended the country against the charge in December.

As the ICJ’s rulings are not binding, rights groups are pursuing an alternative approach by attempting to bring military generals to the ICC in order to seek justice for the victims of human rights violations.

Htet Naing Zaw contributed to this report from Naypyitaw. 

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