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.

The Myanmar Times - - Front Page - LUN MIN MANG lun­min­mang@mm­times.com

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.

Photo: AFP

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.

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