Twenty-five men found dead last week at a bridge building site near Myanmar’s border with Thailand were spies for the military junta, not construction workers as claimed by authorities, a Karen rebel group spokesman said Friday while the political wing of the ethnic group said it would investigate the case.
The Karen National Defence Organisation (KNDO), an armed group under the Karen National Union (KNU), detained 47 people, including women and children, who were working on a bridge construction site in eastern Kayan state, near the border with Thailand, on May 31, an official military newspaper reported Monday.
According to the military-run Myawaddy newspaper, 22 of the group, including six women and 10 children, were released on June 1 and 9, while the bodies of the 25 remaining captives were found near the Uhu Chaung Bridge on June 11 and 12. One body was burned and six of the men had their hands tied behind their backs, the report said.
A KNDO spokesman released a video Friday saying the slain men were not ordinary construction workers, but military intelligence officers who came to collect evidence of Myanmar youths undergoing military training in KNU territory. Thousands of citizens opposed to the junta that overthrew the government on Feb. 1 have fled to rebel territories on Myanmar's periphery to receive military training.
“We have a lot of evidence, together with photos, that the group that came to build the bridge near Kanelay village was a military intelligence group. We also have videos,” said the spokesman in the video.
“If we didn’t take action against the military agents, all the information about the young Generation Z people and the urban youth who had come to us for training would be exposed. We had to detain these agents to protect the young people,” said the spokesman.
The Irrawaddy, an independent online news outlet, quoted the spokesman for the KNDO chief of staff Major General Nerdah Bo Mya as saying the slain men wore military dress and were from infantry and engineering units.
“We shot some of them dead. But some were killed in shelling by the military,” spokesman Saw Wah Nay Nu was quoted as saying.
“They were not road workers. They had military uniforms and badges. They had military equipment. We seized it all,” he told The Irrawaddy.
“They sent drones every night for a month. We said we could not accept that. But they continued and we have had to do what we are supposed to do as we are fighting a war. It was because they didn’t listen to us,” added Saw Wah Nay Nu
“They always want to carry out area clearance operations. In fact, they have killed a lot of people. They (the victims) belonged to the engineering unit,” said the KNDO spokesman.
The junta’s Southeast Military Command sent a letter to KNU on June 13 urging an investigation and the announced on June 16 that it would investigate the matter, reported the local KIC Karen News outfit.
Padoh Saw Taw Ni, KNU's foreign affairs officer, told RFA that in cases when innocent civilians are killed, KNU follows international and local laws.
"I do not know the details yet. As the statement says, we follow the Geneva Conventions because we work with international organizations,” he said.
Aung Myo Min, human rights minister for the National Unity Government and a longtime human rights activist, says the killing of detainees without a fair trial is unacceptable.
"From a human rights point of view, even if it was during a war, killing without trial is completely unacceptable to us. Civilians should not be killed at all,” he said.
“Inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment for a person is absolutely unacceptable in the eyes of any human rights group,” added Aung Myo Min.
According to The Irrawaddy, heavy clashes between the KNDO and junta troops in the area of the killings from May 31 to the first week of June had driven more than 200 villagers to flee to Thailand.
Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Paul Eckert.
This content originally appeared on Radio Free Asia and was authored by Radio Free Asia.