Displaced villagers killed as suspected military informants

The families of two men detained by local resistance forces in Sagaing Region’s Wetlet Township earlier this month say they were both killed on suspicion of acting as military informants.

The victims, 52-year-old Hla Saung and 31-year-old Ko Naing, were staying in camps for displaced civilians when they were taken into custody near the village of Sar Taung Gyi on November 3, the relatives said.

According to their families, both men were members of the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), but had not been involved in politics since last year’s coup.

The alleged murders were reported to the anti-regime Wetlet Township People’s Administration Team, they added.

Hla Saung’s wife told Myanmar Now that five people, including a People’s Defence Team (PDT) leader, arrived at their camp west of Sar Taung Gyi on motorcycles and asked to see her husband. PDTs—or Pa Ka Pha in Burmese—are township-based groups under the direct control of the Defence Ministry of the shadow National Unity Government (NUG).

“We were about to flee, thinking they were from the military, but didn’t because we heard that one of them was a PDT member from our village. After they arrived, they took my husband away for questioning,” she said.

The mother of the other man said that three masked PDT members arrived at their camp, located east of Sar Taung Gyi, and started asking her son who he was and where he was from.

“They said there was nothing to worry about and told us not to run. After they asked my son a few questions, they said they wanted him to go with them,” she said.

Both families said the men’s bodies were discovered near the village of Mhat Hti, about 3km from Sar Taung Gyi, later that evening.

Unable to retrieve them that night due to security concerns, the families said they returned with members of the People’s Administration Team the next day, but the bodies were gone.

“All we could find were my husband’s hat and shoes on a blood stain on the ground,” said Hla Saung’s wife.

A bullet found near the alleged murder site on November 4 (Supplied)

Myat Linn, an officer of the People’s Security Force, which serves as the police force in territory under the control of the NUG, said that his team conducted a search for the bodies and interviewed witnesses who had seen them the day before.

He added that the victims’ past membership in the USDP was not relevant to their investigation.

“It’s true that the deceased used to be active members of the USDP, but we only see them as regular civilians now. We need to get to the bottom of this, because a complaint has been filed with us,” he said.

He added that members of local defence teams were providing security for the traumatised family members, and that the presence of junta troops in the area meant that some parts of the investigation could not be carried out at this time.

A member of a local defence team also said that the case had to be dealt with seriously, as such incidents would have a negative impact on efforts to maintain public trust.

“It was understandable that military informants were sometimes killed when we didn’t have control, but this is a real concern. It’s not right to kill people without proper evidence in areas that we have control over,” he said.

Myanmar Now contacted a PDT member alleged to have been one of the five who arrested Hla Saung, but he denied having any involvement.

“I don’t know anything about this incident, and I’ve never even seen these people, even though they are making detailed accusations,” he said.

In late August, two anti-regime armed groups—one under the command of the NUG and the other operating independently—clashed in Wetlet Township, resulting in two deaths.

The Bo Tiger People’s Defence Force (PDF), which was attacked for allegedly extorting money from motorists, later filed a complaint with the Wetlet Township People’s Administration Team over the loss of two of its members and the arrest of 12 others by the NUG-led Shwebo District PDF Battalion 2, which is based in the township.

In parts of Myanmar’s north now largely under the control of the NUG, local administration teams have sought to restore rule of law by establishing both police forces and a nascent judicial system.

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