Tatmadaw admits civilian deaths
In a surprising admission yesterday, the Tatmadaw acknowledged its involvement in the murder of five Shan State residents and vowed to punish the soldiers conducting the interrogations that resulted in the killings.
THE military has admitted that its soldiers killed five civilians in Shan State’s Lashio township, in a nearly unprecedented admission of responsibility from a powerful institution that critics say has long acted with impunity.
At a press conference yesterday in Yangon, Lieutenant General Mya Tun Oo said a military tribunal would try those responsible for killing the five men, who died during interrogations.
“There are rules and regulations in interrogating. They need to be followed,” said Lt Gen Mya Tun Oo, who works in the office of Commander-in-Chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing. “If someone fails to follow them, it requires that action be taken.”
He promised that the Tatmadaw would fully disclose the outcome of the case, including any punishment meted out, and would offer the victims’ families assistance.
The case in Mong Yaw village made headlines last month, with locals accusing Tatmadaw troops of detaining seven civilians, who were never seen again. An investigation into the other two deaths is ongoing, according to the Tatmadaw, which has long faced allegations of misconduct – particularly against ethnic minority populations – from human rights advocates and ethnic armed groups.
Two of the highest profile cases in recent years were the October 2014 killing, while in military custody, of freelance journalist Ko Par Gyi, and the deaths of two Kachin schoolteachers in northern Shan State in January of last year that were widely alleged to have been perpetrated by Tatmadaw soldiers.
Shan State has been wracked by conflict between the Tatmadaw and several ethnic armed groups in recent years, and civilians are frequently detained by the former and questioned for suspected ties to the latter.
Anti-Ma Jai Yang In a less dramatic disclosure yesterday, speaking on behalf of Snr Gen Min Aung Hlaing, Lt Gen Mya Tun Oo urged Myanmar’s ethnic armed groups not to go forward with a gathering among their own that they intend to hold in remote Ma Jai Yang, Kachin State.
With plans to hold a so-called 21stcentury Panglong Conference at the end of August, ethnic armed groups are hoping to gather at the end of this month to discuss and reach common positions ahead of the much-anticipated conference, which will bring together the civilian National League for Democracy government, the Tatmadaw, ethnic armed groups and political parties.
“The commander-in-chief said it will be difficult to reach similar opinion among the different groups, and it could cause problems at the peace conference ... Discussing openly and honestly among each other is the better way,” Lt Gen Mya Tun Oo said at the press conference.
At a meeting on June 30 between Snr Gen Min Aung Hlaing and eight non-stated armed group signatories to last year’s nationwide ceasefire agreement, representatives from the signatory groups asked the commanderin-chief for the Tatmadaw to provide security for the Ma Jai Yang summit, citing the region’s war-torn recent history and present-day instability. They also sought the military’s blessing to hold the meeting.
Ethnic leaders have said the point of Ma Jai Yang is to reinforce the foundation of peace-building efforts, not to try to strengthen their side’s hand in the lead-up to the Panglong Conference.
Yesterday Lt Gen Mya Tun Oo said Snr Gen Min Aung Hlaing was not going so far as to command that the Ma Jai Yang plans be scrapped, and was only offering a suggestion and encouraging ethnic armed groups to consider the possible consequences if the meeting is held.
“The commander-in-chief is just giving a suggestion on whether the conference should be held or not. If it is held, we don’t have any reason to object to it because it is conducted according to the policy of the government,” he said, adding that the road from the Kachin State capital Myitkyina to Ma Jai Yang is under Tatmadaw control, and that ethnic armed groups participating in the summit later this month would not be prevented from using it.
Addressing the inclusivity of the Panglong Conference, Lt Gen Mya Tun Oo reiterated a previous call for parties in active conflict with the Tatmadaw to lay down their arms in order to get a seat at the negotiating table.
“These three armed groups need to fully have a desire to relinquish the ways of fighting the government with arms and weapons. If [they do] so, it is not difficult to attain peace,” Lt Gen Mya Tun Oo said, referring to the Arakan Army, the Ta’ang National Liberation Army and the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army.
All three groups were shut out of the nationwide ceasefire agreement negotiations by the previous military-back government.
State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has stressed that her government is seeking to make the August conference as inclusive as possible, but exclusion of some groups looks increasingly likely with each week that passes without an answer on whom the Tatmadaw will agree to have participate.
Ethnic armed groups, and particularly NCA non-signatories, have urged the government to push for the inclusion of the three groups.
Lieutenant General Mya Tun Oo speaks at a press conference in Yangon on July 20.