March 9, 2018 / 11:05 AM / 7 months ago

Myanmar probes grave after soldiers seen detaining men

YANGON (Reuters) - Myanmar authorities on Friday visited a suspected shallow grave in the country’s north that residents said contained the bodies of two ethnic minority men who were detained by soldiers in January, a police officer and a community leader said.

The missing men had been living in camps for people displaced by conflict. More than 100,000 people have been forced from their homes since a ceasefire between Myanmar’s armed forces and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) broke down in 2011.

The conflict is separate to the Rohingya crisis in the west of the country, but security forces are similarly accused of committing frequent abuses against civilians.

A group of about two dozen civilians discovered the remains on Thursday while searching in a forest in Kachin State’s Mansi township for the men who went missing on Jan. 31, said Aung Myu San, a Kachin youth leader.

Police, a doctor, a judge and a local administrator were visiting the site on Friday afternoon, Aung Myu San told Reuters by phone from Maing Hkawng, a village roughly 30 km (18 miles) from Myanmar’s border with China.

Second-Lieutenant Myo Thant, the police chief for Mansi, said he was visiting the site to investigate.

“We got the report for that. I am in the middle of the meeting to discuss going there,” he said, adding he could not yet confirm what had been found.

Campaign group Fortify Rights said on Feb. 20 it had spoken to two witnesses who saw soldiers detain Hpaugan Yaw, 65, and Nhkum Naw San, 35. The witnesses said Nhkum Naw San was badly beaten, and one said she saw soldiers try to put KIA uniforms on the men, according to the group, which kept the witnesses anonymous.

Khon Ja, a coordinator with the Kachin Peace Network civil society group, said there was a pattern of “abduction and murder” by security forces in the Kachin conflict.

“When the institution responsible for people’s lives and security is committing that kind of thing, civilians are helpless,” she said, adding she was concerned about the safety of those who had reported military involvement in the men’s disappearance.

Fortify Rights called for Myanmar to investigate and hold anyone found responsible to account in the case of the two Kachin men.

“These men were farmers, not fighters,” said David Baulk, a researcher for the group. “They were doing what they could to survive while displaced by conflict. They were in the wrong place at the wrong time, and paid with their lives.”

Reuters was unable to reach two spokesmen for the Myanmar military, General Soe Naing Oo and Major General Aye Lwin, to comment on the case.

Security forces are also accused of rape, murder and arson of Muslim Rohingya in a campaign launched in response to insurgent attacks in August in the western Rakhine state, prompting hundreds of thousands to flee to neighbouring Bangladesh.

Myanmar has asked for “clear evidence” of atrocities in Rakhine, but the U.N. human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein on Friday called for Myanmar to be referred to the International Criminal Court for what he said may be “acts of genocide” against the stateless Rohingya minority.

Writing by Simon Lewis; Editing by Nick Macfie

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