Injured survivors from a shooting this week in western Myanmar’s turbulent Rakhine state on Friday rejected the Myanmar army’s account of the incident that killed six detained civilians and wounded eight others.
Four witnesses from Kyauk Tan village interviewed Friday by RFA’s Myanmar Service rejected the account presented a day earlier by Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun, a military spokesman, who said villagers attacked security forces who were interrogating them and tried to take their weapons and the troops fired as a last resort.
Government forces had been holding 275 civilians in a school compound Rathedaung township’s Kyauk Tan village since Tuesday to interrogate them about possible links to an alleged training camp of the Arakan Army (AA), an ethnic Rakhine group that is battling Myanmar forces for greater autonomy.
A 48-year-old man who was injured in the shooting told RFA that the incident was sparked when a mentally disabled detainee started yelling loudly at 2 a.m. Thursday morning.
“There was a mentally disabled man among the detainees. We asked the security forces to take care of him separately,” he told RFA. “They said, ‘He is not mentally disabled. He is fine. He is just pretending.’”
“The man started yelling ‘run, run, run’ in the middle of the night around 2 a.m. The security forces didn’t shoot at him. Instead, they shot at the crowd of other people. So, many people sleeping at the time died,” the witness said.
A second witness who was present near the school supported the statement. “Some people tried to run at that time. But most people were lying on their chest. People who run away were not shot. But those who were sleeping got shot,” the witness said.
No food or bathing
Another injured patient said the shooting lasted around 20 minutes. A fourth injured witness said the military did not feed the 275 detainees or allow them to bathe.
“We were not allowed take a bath. They didn’t give any food the first two days. They only gave us a meal for dinner Tuesday. They said they would shoot and kill us if we tried to leave the school.” RFA has confirmed the identities of the witnesses but has withheld their names to protect them from possible reprisals by the military.
RFA asked Col. Win Zaw Oo, the commander of Western Military Command Division, on inconsistencies between the military’s announcements and the witnesses’ accounts.
“What we have announced so far is the truth. We said it yesterday. The crowd was aroused to a dangerous situation. We responded with necessary measures to control the situation,” he said. “They have their own accounts. But we have plenty of evidence to back up our accounts,” Win Zaw Oo said.
At a military news conference at the Military History Museum in the capital Naypyidaw, army spokesman Zaw Min Tun denied the allegation that the security forces withheld food and drinking water from detainees at the school.
“We have been interrogating 275 villagers in Kyauk Tan village. This morning, we have released 126 villagers who were found to have no connection with AA,” he told the news conference. He said the others deemed to be associated with the AA would be charged under the law, but did not elaborate.
“Some villagers were killed in the 2:00 a.m. incident,” added Zaw Min Tun. “We have returned the bodies of the deceased villagers to the families at 9:00 a.m. this morning,” he said, adding that family members of the dead villagers were given 300,000 kyats (about $200).
Campaign to ‘instill fear’ in Rakhines
AA spokesman Khine Thukha repeated his rejection of the military’s account of the shooting. “We can give a very clear answer: All the villagers they detained in Kyauk Tan village are just local civilians. They have no connection with AA,” he told RFA.
“We think it is the military’s strategy to instill fear among the Rakhine population by terrorizing a previously peaceful Rakhine village with violent detention and interrogations. Besides, their detention of the civilians is unlawful,” said Khine Thukha.
“They give an excuse that the detained villagers tried to attack them, cheering and taking the guns. This is unacceptable excuse,” added the AA spokesman. Political analyst Maung Maung Soe said the government should form an independent commission to probe the case.
“In order to reveal the truth, the government should form an independent commission to investigate the case,” he said. “If such a committee is assigned to do investigations to find out the truth, I think we will have an account acceptable to all of us.”
Win Zaw Oo, however, said the military would investigate its own. “Whenever there is an incident, we, the military, always have investigations as regular procedure. If it is necessary, we are going to conduct our own investigations,” he told RFA. AA spokesman Khine Thukha said allowing media access to Rakhine would shed light on the dispute.
“If the Burmese military genuinely believes that they are doing the right thing for Rakhine people, they should be giving full media access to Rakhine state. We welcome the media and guarantee the security of the reporters in AA’s controlled areas,” he said.
“If the government is confident in their actions, give open access to media. Then, people will know what they have done and what we have done.” The eight injured villagers were receiving medical treatments at Sittwe General Hospital in the Rakhine state capital, while the six slain detainees were buried at Kyauk Tan cemetery on Friday. (RFA)
Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Paul Eckert.