Resistance Leader and Former Monk Admits Committing War Crimes in Upper Myanmar

By The Irrawaddy 22 March 2022

Fighters from the Yinmabin People’s Defense Force (YMB-PDF) in Sagaing Region have committed murder and other war crimes, the YMB-PDF leader told The Irrawaddy. 

Bo Thanmani, the head of YMB-PDF and a former abbot who left the monkhood to join the resistance movement, admitted committing crimes. But he denied ordering his subordinates to commit crimes. 

On March 14, the Union Defense & Liberation Alliance (UDLA), a Myanmar-wide network of resistance groups, alleged that YMB-PDF and their affiliates have been abducting, coercing, robbing, torturing and killing people in Yinmabin District and adjacent areas. The UDLA said that 21 people have been killed in five separate incidents.

Among the people killed were resistance fighters and support staff from the Hero Tiger resistance group, as well as local residents, said the UDLA.

Sixty-three PDFs from areas around Yinmabin have called on YMB-PDF to surrender and cooperate in an investigation for a public trial. 

63 local PDF groups have accused the Yinmabin PDF of killing resistance fighters.

The PDFs revealed a list of 13 suspects including Bo Thanmani, who is the former abbot of the monastery in Thabyay Aye Village. 

The Irrawaddy has researched the victims, spoken to those familiar with the allegations and collected evidence.

“We are making detailed investigations into those crimes,” Bo Thanmani told The Irrawaddy. What they [other PDFs] said is true, and [our PDF members] committed crimes. But we are still investigating to find out the perpetrators. I have never ordered anyone to kill military informants,” he added. 

He denied the allegation by the 63 PDFs that some of the people killed by YMB-PDF were resistance fighters. 

“Those killed were not PDF. Some of them were killed by our resistance fighters for participating in pro-junta rallies. Some were killed because of personal grudges,” said Bo Thanmani. 

 “About the first six people who were killed [by YMB-PDF], we found out that they had carried out mine attacks on other PDFs in the past. Our PDF members got angry as they questioned them about the attacks. When they finally admitted committing mine attacks, our members killed them out of anger,” he said. 

Bo Thanmani is the former abbot of Thabyay Aye Village monastery.

One relative of a victim allegedly killed by YMB-PDF for supposedly bombing the group said: “We thought they would be released. But we have not heard about them since they were detained. And it is not true that they attacked them [YMB-PDF] with mines,” she said. 

After the victims’ detention was discovered, local resistance fighters contacted Bo Thanmani to come and give an explanation. But he did not show up. 

Bo Thanmani, who was previously known as U Thawparka, was one of the leading figures in the 2007 Saffron Revolution, when Buddhist monks joined people across Myanmar in mass rallies against the previous military regime. He also took an active part in anti-junta activities soon after last year’s coup. 

He left the Thabyay Aye Village monastery to become leader of the local PDF. Under his leadership, his group coerced and killed fighters in smaller resistance groups in the area to assert his authority over them, locals and PDFs in Sagaing Region told The Irrawaddy.

The parallel civilian National Unity Government (NUG) has formed an investigation commission led by its deputy defense minister Naing Kaung Ywut to investigate the alleged killings by YMB-PDF. The commission started its investigation in November last year. 

Thabyay Aye Village signboard.

The NUG’s central commission of inquiry into war crimes has been probing war crime allegations and identifying perpetrators, said the NUG on March 14. But details of its investigation into YMB-PDF are still unknown. 

“We have received some complaints about crimes committed by armed groups. We can’t disclose the details on ethical grounds because the trial hasn’t been held yet,” said U Naing Htoo Aung, secretary of the NUG’s Defense Ministry. The NUG’s central commission of inquiry into war crimes said that, if necessary, the accused would be suspended from their military duties during the trial. 

Bo Thanmani said the NUG’s Minister of Defense U Yee Mon has told him to continue his duties. “U Yee Mon told me on March 16 to control the fighters as much as I possibly can and to continue my duties. I will follow the guidelines of the NUG and its investigation and inquiry. And I am ready to take any punishment given by it.” 

Locals and PDFs in the region regard the fact that YMB-PDF reportedly has 200 guns as a cause for concern.

Those weapons were supplied by the NUG to distribute among PDFs in other townships in Sagaing Region, but YMB-PDF has only distributed a small amount of arms, while keeping the majority for themselves, claimed local PDFs. 

Yinmabin Township signboard.

Bo Thanmani told The Irrawaddy: “Yes, the NUG has supplied arms. And we have distributed ten guns each to some townships. I can’t tell you the names of those townships. The arms were given directly to me in my honor because it was me who first launched attacks in the region. I was not mandated to share the arms with other townships. The defense minister said personally that the arms must be supplied directly to Bo Thanmani and managed by Bo Thanmani.” 

In September, the NUG’s Ministry of Defense issued rules of engagement and a code of conduct for PDFs and other resistance groups, which prohibit the killing of prisoners of war and require resistance fighters to pay an appropriate amount when they use civilian property. 

The military regime has been committing grave human rights violations and war crimes since last year’s coup. But some anti-regime resistance groups have also committed war crimes.

In one case, the Karen National Defense Organization (KNDO) killed civilians last year alleging that they were military spies. 

The KNDO’s political wing, the Karen National Union (KNU, launched an investigation after the junta accused the armed group of slaughtering civilians. In January, the KNU dismissed General Saw Nerdah Mya as the KNDO’s chief over the killing of 25 people. 

In another case, Mai Noam Han, the chairperson of the Mongkai Township branch of the Ta’ang National Party, his wife and seven-month-old daughter were killed around two months ago in southern Shan State. An investigation committee said evidence indicated that they were killed by the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS), an armed group. RCSS spokesman Colonel Sai Ngin has denied responsibility for the murders. 

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