Soldiers found guilty of murdering Shan civilians
In a rare admission, a military court has found seven Tatmadaw soldiers guilty of killing villagers and trying to bury the evidence, and sentenced them to five years in prison.
IN a rare admission of military misconduct, a Tatmadaw court martial has found seven soldiers guilty of murdering Shan villagers during a botched interrogation. After two months of investigation, on September 15 the soldiers from the Northeast Regional Command in Lashio were sentenced to five years in prison with hard labour.
“The court decreed that each of the seven soldiers will serve five years in prison,” said Sai Kao Kham, a local resident who served as a translator throughout the trial. Few of the victims’ family members speak the Myanmar language.
Of the seven convicted soldiers, four are military officers.
The Tatmadaw has long faced allegations of misconduct – particularly against ethnic minority populations – from human rights advocates and ethnic armed groups, but until now has largely acted with impunity.
The case in Mong Yaw village made headlines in June after Tatmdaw troops detained several villagers in connection with a roadblock skirmish. The bodies of five civilians were dug up from shallow graves in a roadway ditch several days later.
Family members of the deceased victims told The Myanmar Times that the verdict, with its minimal prison terms, fell far short of delivering justice for their loved ones.
Ma Aye Luut, 18, said her husband was just 23 years old when he was killed.
“[The soldiers] were given just five years, but I lost my husband,” she said.
The mother of two children – a two-year-old and a seven-month-old baby – now has no way to support her young family. She said the day she learned of her husband’s death was the darkest of her life.
“I used to be a housewife. I don’t know how to make money. I am worried about the future of my children. Who will raise them?” Ma Aye Luut said.
Sai Maung Than lost his teenage brother in the same incident. Sai Si Lu was only 17 when he was shot dead by the Tatmadaw soldiers. He was the youngest among the murdered villagers.
The day before his death, Sai Si Lu went to work in a cornfield near the village. He never returned home, according to his brother.
“I have lost my only brother,” Sai Maung Than said.
Sai Si Lu’s grandmother was so afflicted by the news of her grandson’s death that her health rapidly deteriorated and she has since suffered depression.
“Only five years for taking a life is not enough. But what can I do to change it?” Sai Maung Than said.
In July, Deputy Commander Major General Kyaw Kyaw Soe from the Northeast Regional Command visited the victims’ families and gave them each K300,000 (US$247). He said the money was a show of his personal condolences and was not official compensation money.
“They have not said anything about the compensation. I would be relieved if they would help ensure I can raise these little children,” said Ma Aye Luut.
Sai Kao Kham, the translator, said that while the losses will never be overcome, the weary and mourning families are hoping some of their financial burden will be lifted through compensation money. Most of the deceased were breadwinners for their family.
Over the weekend, as news of the verdict spread, some within the military community were also perturbed by the court’s ruling, and accused the legal system of unjustly buckling to public pressure.
“While some civilians and media are debating the fairness of the sentence length, it was also a shock for the Tatmadaw community. This is the first ruling of its kind in which a division commander is being punished by imprisonment for a military operation,” Ye Moe, an editor at Myanmar Review Journal, wrote on his Facebook account.
The Tatmadaw has denied culpability for two other villagers’ deaths, allegedly linked to the Ta’ang National Liberation Army. The TNLA has denied that any of the murdered villagers were connected with them or their soldiers.
A military spokesperson yesterday said he could not make further comment beyond the Tatmadaw’s official statement confirming the court sentence.
At a press conference in July, Lieutenant General Mya Tun Oo pledged that the Tatmadaw would fully disclose the outcome of the military tribunal and its separate probe into the deaths of the two men accused of TNLA links, including any punishment meted out. He also said the Tatmadaw would offer the victims’ families assistance.
According to the Shan Human Rights Foundation, which conducted an independent investigation into the killings, the two other men, brothers Naw Tint and Sai Hla, were shot dead on their motorcycle when they refused to heed a roadblock the Tatmadaw Light Infantry Battalion 362 had set up along the route from Mong Yaw village to Lashio.
Soldiers ordered the two men on the motorcycle to stop and when they did not halt fired shots first into the air and then at the motorists.
According to the Shan Human Rights Foundation, the soldiers then went to nearby cornfields and arrested five civilian farmers for interrogation. Those five were the civilians later killed.
Lieutenant General Mya Tun Oo speaks during a press conference in Yangon on July 20, when the military said it was investigating the deaths of five villagers during an interrogation by soldiers and would punish wrongdoers.