Seven Burmese soldiers were brought to a military court in Lashio on Tuesday in a landmark case, which has received national and international attention. The seven stand accused of murdering five villagers from Mong Yaw in June.
Sao Lao Pha, a Mong Yaw resident who, along with family members of the deceased, was permitted entry into the military hearing, said that six of the seven Burmese soldiers pleaded guilty to killing the five men, while one pleaded not guilty on the grounds that he was obeying orders.
“They confessed that they committed the crime,” Sai Lao Pha said. “However, one of them, Sargent Sein Win Maung, pleaded not guilty to killing the victims because he said he was ordered to do so by higher ranking officers. He said that he was told to make the five men put on army uniforms and then kill them.”
Sai Lao Pha told Shan Herald that also on trial are the soldiers’ superiors, Chief of Military Operations Command 10 Col. Myo Aung, and Chief of Battalion 362 Maj. Tin Myo Zaw.
Reached for comment, Aye Nang, one of 20 Mong Yaw residents attending the hearing, said Sergant Sein Win Maung told the court that he killed two of the men with a knife.
“However, according to witnesses, only bullet cartridges were found at the grave where the five victims were buried. No one saw any knife wounds on their bodies,” she added.
It is highly unusual for members of Burma’s armed forces, especially officers, to stand trial for abuses committed against civilians. It is also irregular for a military court to allow civilians access. Tuesday’s proceedings were held at North Eastern Command headquarters in Lashio, northern Shan State.
Sai Lao Pha said that the judge did not set any date for the next hearing, nor were the matters of punishment or compensation discussed.
He told Shan Herald that Brig-Gen Nay Win Aung chaired Tuesday’s military trial. Lt-Col Kyaw Moe Myint represented the plaintiffs, while Lt-Col Naing Win represented the defendants.
On June 25, five Mong Yaw villagers were working in a farmer’s field when they were arrested by a unit of Burmese government troops, who accused them of being rebels or rebel sympathizers. A few days later, the five men were uncovered in a shallow grave near the local Burmese army camp. Two other civilians were shot dead on June 25 when they failed to stop their motorbike at an army checkpoint in the town.
On July 20, Lt-Gen Mya Tun Oo, the serving chief of Burma’s military intelligence, confirmed at a news conference in Rangoon that government soldiers were responsible for the Mong Yaw murders.
Earlier this week, authorities in Lashio Township reportedly exhumed all seven bodies in Mong Yaw where local police have apparently opened their own investigation into the murders.
The five murdered men were: Aik Hseng, 23; Aik Lod, 39; Aik Maung, 27; Sai Mon Awn, 17; and Sai Aik Maung, 23. The names of the two shot while riding a motorbike are unknown.