Missing locals feared to be among the burned bodies in Karenni State massacre

Some 13 missing persons have been identified as potentially being among the more than 30 victims found burned on a road in Karenni (Kayah) State’s Hpruso Township on Christmas. 

The Karenni Nationalities Defence Force (KNDF) has named the military as the perpetrator of the massacre after the resistance group discovered dozens of bodies in burned out vehicles near Moso village at around 6am on Saturday, noting that the fire had been set one day earlier. 

The UK-based Myanmar Witness, which has been documenting human rights violations committed by the Myanmar military, reported that the massacre of more than 30 people took place at 1:18pm on December 24. 

Save the Children Myanmar released a statement on Saturday declaring that two of their staff members were missing, and that their vehicle was among those found burned at the scene. 

Eight men who had been working at a petrol station in the Karenni State capital of Loikaw, as well as three other people who were believed to have been on the road in question on December 24 have also been reported as missing. 

Among them was 28-year-old Li Reh, from Hpruso’s Kho Yar Khu village, who left home on Friday morning for Loikaw and lost contact with his family, according to his father.  

“He said he was going to Loikaw to buy a car. He left on a motorbike. I can’t say for sure if he’s still alive or not as some people have said that he was one of the victims who was burned, while others have said he is in detention,” his father, Sha Reh, told Myanmar Now on Sunday. 

Kyaw Lwin Htoo, the owner of a Loikaw petrol station, and his seven staff members have also been missing since leaving to deliver 100 barrels of gasoline and diesel in three large trucks to Bawlake Township on Saturday, according to Kyaw Lwin Htoo’s wife. 

“They left home at around 6am. We still haven’t been able to contact them,” his wife said. “I called him at around 11pm but he didn’t pick up. I called him again in the evening and his phone was off.”  

She added that the seven staff members were all young men, but she did not know their exact ages or their names.  

“I also asked some of our friends and they told me that they had not received any news on them. I just hope they’re okay,” she said.  

A KNDF battalion commander told Myanmar Now on Sunday that a total of three large trucks, three small vehicles, two tractors and five motorbikes were found burned, along with food supplies, medicine and petrol tanks. 

A local woman assisting displaced persons from nearby Moso village said that she knew of at least two people who had been travelling in Hpruso at the time of the massacre and had gone missing: a displaced person from Demoso Township and a man from Loikaw on his way to bring his sick father from Hpruso. 

Several Moso locals were also missing, she added, but opted not to provide names until the identities of the deceased had been confirmed. 

“We can only say for sure when we are certain that they aren’t coming back. We are still making the list right now,” she said on Saturday of the missing persons. 

Because the bodies at the scene of the fire were badly charred or reduced to ash, the exact number of casualties was not initially known. Banya, director of the Karenni Human Rights Group, said that they had managed to count 27 burned skulls at the time of reporting, but that there were still more. 

“We have now confirmed about 27 people. There are still some bodies in the burned cars. There will be around 10 more,” he told Myanmar Now. 

As many villagers from Moso had already fled the area due to clashes between the military and the resistance, Banyar noted that it was difficult to obtain updated information on missing persons. He added that local rights workers would continue to interview families in an attempt to determine who may be among the dead. 

“Some people ran away from the Moso village tract. We are planning to identify the bodies by interviewing the families of the missing persons. However, the lists are still being processed,” he explained. 

The KNDF released a statement saying that they had fought alongside the Karenni Army against a military column near Moso village on Friday morning.

The KNDF battalion commander who spoke to Myanmar Now claimed that the junta column in question also shot and killed four members of a Border Guard Force who were negotiating with the junta troops as they interrogated civilians passing through the area. 

He also said that the military had burned more than 30 people, including women and children, and that he had seen smoke from the vehicles from afar. 

Junta spokesperson Gen Zaw Min Tun told BBC News that a clash took place in Hpruso Township when seven vehicles refused to heed military orders to stop, and that 25 members of a People’s Defence Force, including a woman, were subsequently killed in the fighting. 

A total of 59 civil society organisations jointly condemned the massacre in a statement on Sunday and alleged that the military unit that perpetrated the attack was from Light Infantry Battalion 108 based in Danuphyu, under the supervision of Light Infantry Division 66.

“We, the civil society organizations, strongly condemn the actions that amount to international crimes perpetrated by the military junta in Karenni State and we will stand with Karenni People to get justice,” the statement said. 

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