Myanmar police and the military are investigating the case of a civilian allegedly killed by government soldiers six months ago in war-ravaged Rakhine state, after the dead man’s family pressed charges against troops for the murder and cover-up, his relatives told RFA Friday.
Soldiers detained Kyaw Hlaing, 31, of Pike Thae ward in Kyauktaw township on July 2 in one of the combat zones in their now two-year-long armed conflict with the rebel Arakan Army (AA) in the northern part of the state. Five days later, his body parts washed ashore along the banks of the Kaladan River.
The family of Kyaw Hlaing filed complaints against soldiers at the Kyauktaw police station, accusing them of murder and covering up evidence.
Police interviewed two witnesses on Dec. 31, while regional military officials interrogated the same pair again on Jan 7.
Aung Kyaw Oo, a recycling vender who worked with Kyaw Hlaing, testified that he had seen military troops arrest his colleague on July 2.
“In the evening when Kyaw Hlaing came to me to turn in some broken iron bars, we saw a military column coming into the area,” he said. “Everyone along the street closed all their doors and hid. At the time, Kyaw Hlaing was coming to my home, and he ran into the soldier in front of my house.”
Myanmar soldiers questioned Kyaw Hlaing for three minutes before taking him to a nearby monastery hall where they detained him, Aung Kyaw Oo said.
“I saw everything from my house, [and] I testified about what I had seen,” he said.
‘Mumbling the words’
Buddhist abbot Sandimar from Myo Ma Shwe Kyaung monastery, where the military column was stationed, also testified that he saw Kyaw Hlaing with his hands tied behind his back detained under the building on July 3.
“Around 6:30 a.m. that day, I went down to the monastery to take a bath,” he said. “I saw Kyaw Hlaing near there without a shirt on and with his hands tied behind his back.”
When Kyaw Hlaing called out to the abbot, the monk did not recognize him because his face was bruised and swollen beyond recognition, he said.
“He was mumbling the words,” Sandimar said. “At the same time, the soldiers were watching at me.”
The nuns in the neighboring monastery said they also heard Kyaw Hlaing’s murmuring that night and that the military column left the monastery the following day.
RFA could not reach the commander of the Kyauktaw police station or military spokesmen for comment.
At a July 15 press conference in Rakhine’s capital Sittwe, Kyaw Hlaing’s wife Su Chey told reporters that she tried to see her husband while he was being held at the monastery, but soldiers denied he was there and threatened to shoot her if she returned.
She was among the members of 18 families who participated in the press conference to draw media attention to their civilian relatives who were arrested by the military on suspicion of having ties to the AA.
Su Chey said she saw Kyaw Hlaing tied to a banana tree on the monastery grounds and knew it was him because he was not wearing a shirt when soldiers detained him.
‘A false allegation’
That same day, Myanmar military spokesman Major General Zaw Min Tun said that the woman’s story was a false allegation.
“As far as I know, no one was arrested in Kyauktaw,” he said. “We are always announcing news related to civilian arrests. If we arrest a civilian, we always release information about it.”
“This is just a false allegation, though we didn’t make any arrests,” he said. “These accusations come out all the time.”
Zan Min Tun denied allegations that Myanmar soldiers had arrested villagers from the area during a press conference on July 5, 2020. He was unavailable for comment on the latest development.
Su Chey said she wants justice for Kyaw Hlaing.
“I want the authorities to punish whoever murdered my husband and cut him up,” she told RFA. “I want justice for him. He was murdered although he was not guilty. I also want to appeal to the international community to help us deliver justice for him.”
The incident was one of numerous disappearances in the two-year-old war in Rakhine that has killed 300 civilians and displaced roughly 230,000 others. The AA is battling for more autonomy for the ethnic Rakhines, descendants of an ancient kingdom along the eastern shore of the Bay of Bengal.
Reported by Min Thein Aung for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.
This post was originally published on Radio Free.