Striking teacher disappears in northern Myanmar in suspected abduction

A schoolteacher participating in the anti-junta Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) went missing last week along with his teenage son after leaving their home in Homalin, northern Sagaing Region, on the way to a nearby town.

The whereabouts of On Hao, who is in his 50s, and his son, 18, have been unknown since the afternoon of January 2, when they started a trip to Tamu Township, which borders Homalin to the southwest.

On Hao, the missing teacher (Board of Education Homalin)

“They left Homalin at around 12:30pm, and his other son called us and asked if his father was with us. That’s how we found out they had gone missing,” a source close to the missing teacher told Myanmar Now.

The last known whereabouts of the missing persons was near Tilaung village, located 10 miles from Homalin. A nearby security checkpoint is jointly operated by the military-backed Pyu Saw Htee militia and the Shanni Nationalities Army (SNA), an ethnic armed organisation. 

The source close to On Hao suggested that the SNA or another locally active armed group had detained the activist educator. 

“The Shanni armed force is operating around the area where the teacher and his son went missing, so they’re the prime suspects right now,” the source said.

The SNA was founded in 1989 and operates in ethnic Shanni areas of northern Sagaing Region and Kachin State. Myanmar Now requested information from the SNA regarding their possible role in detaining the missing persons, but did not receive a response. 

The Myanmar military also occupies northern Sagaing, with three infantry battalions stationed in Homalin. Anti-junta forces such as the Kachin Independence Army and the People’s Defence Force maintain a presence in the same areas and have fought repeatedly with the military and their allies.

The Homalin Board of Education—which is under the authority of the publicly mandated National Unity Government (NUG)—released a statement on Sunday urging any locally active armed force holding the teacher and his son to release them as soon as possible.

“We’ve been trying to contact them,” a board member said. “We haven’t succeeded yet, but we haven’t lost hope.”

In a comparable incident in July 2022, school headmaster and CDM activist Aung San Win, 38, was abducted and killed in Homalin Township. The Homalin education board ascribed responsibility for the murder to the SNA, who denied the accusation. 

Throughout Sagaing Region and elsewhere in Myanmar, the military regime and its allies have grown increasingly repressive towards schools and educators, especially persecuting those who support and participate in the general strike associated with the CDM.

In late December last year, the junta handed a death sentence to a 25-year-old primary school teacher and CDM participant Kaung Khant Kyaw for alleged involvement in the murder of a military informant in Ayeyarwady Region.

A primary school teacher in Tamu Township received a 10-year sentence last November for allegedly distributing funds from the NUG to teachers active in the CDM. 

Activist teacher May Hnin Aye was killed at her home in Homalin Township the month before. Her assailants’ affiliation with armed groups or the military was not clearly established, but their motive is suspected to have been related to her participation in the CDM.

In September 2022, striking high school teacher Kyaw Naing Win died in military custody after his arrest in Mandalay Region’s Wundwin Township for unknown charges.  

Throughout the country, the military has also arrested teachers who volunteer at NUG-approved alternative schools. The junta has been accused of violating international law by stationing troops at schools, as well as through the frequent destruction of school buildings through acts of arson, artillery fire, or airstrikes, which have resulted in the deaths of schoolchildren.

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