The trial of six Buddhists suspected of involvement in last year’s killing of 10 Muslims in Taungup, Arakan State, began this week at the provincial court in Thandwe, a city in the state’s south.
The accused were charged at their initial court appearance on Tuesday under two sections of Burma’s Penal Code: Section 302 (murder) and Section 34 (acts done by several persons in furtherance of a common intention).
Members of Burma’s national police force arrested them on July 17 at their homes in Taungup and the suspects have been detained since at the prison in Thandwe, a city about 70km southeast of Taungup. The arrests were made directly by police flown in from Naypyidaw, with local authorities left in the dark as the central government moved to detain the men.
Naypyidaw police officials are acting as plaintiffs in the case, with the next trial date scheduled for Monday of next week.
A source close to the court, who asked to remain anonymous, said family members of the suspects did not have a chance to meet with them prior to the trial, which they said came without notice. “We will have to see if they can meet with their family members on the next trial date on August 26,” he told The Irrawaddy on Friday.
According to the courthouse, proceedings will be open for the family members to attend.
Kyaw Lin, another resident of Thandwe who is close to one of the victims’ families, told The Irrawaddy on Friday that Tuesday’s hearing was conducted under a heavy security presence.
“They were taken to the court from the prison under heavy security,” said Kyaw Lin, adding that security arrangements in the city had been unusual for the last few days.
Two Muslims from Thandwe were among the 10 bus attack victims in Taungup on June 3, 2012. The killings were believed to be a reprisal for the rape of an Arakanese woman, allegedly by Muslim men on May 28 of that year.
The other victims were travelers from Taungdwingyi, a township in central Burma, and Myaungmya in Irrawaddy Division.
The case is considered one of the underlying reasons for the communal strife between Arakanese Buddhists and Muslims in western Burma last year. Due to that, the township police stations in both Taungup and Thandwe refused to register the complaints of the victims’ families last year. The family members also submitted a letter to President Thein Sein calling for an investigation into the killings shortly after the incident, urging the president to ensure justice for the victims.
The government formed an investigation committee led by Deputy Minister of Home Affairs Brig-Gen Kyaw Zan Myint on June 7, 2012. Tuesday’s trial comes some 14 months after the murders in Taungup.