Troops in Myanmar’s western Chin state have massacred at least 10 civilians, including a 13-year-old and a journalist, after detaining them days earlier, residents said Tuesday, prompting the head of a rights group to label the deaths “war crimes” and call for greater protections for ethnic Chins in the region.
The 10 victims were arrested by junta soldiers on Jan. 6 in Matupi township’s Ki-lun and Lon-hlaw villages, around nine miles north of the township seat, residents said. The bodies of two of the victims were found near Ka-se village on Jan. 8, while those of the remaining eight were discovered a day later between Ki-lun and Lon-hlaw, they said.
Residents identified the victims as Salai Tui Dim, Salai Van Htoo, Salai Steven, Salai La Ring, Salai La Nang, Salai Tin San, Salai Phupa Sali, Salai Lian Ngai, Salai Ze Caet Aung and Salia Thak Lung.
Salai Tui Dim, who lived across the border in India, was the founder and editor-in-chief of the Chin state-based Khonumthung news agency. He had been visiting his hometown of Matupi when he was arrested, one of the outlet’s editors, who gave his name as Robert, told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
“Tui Dim’s body was among the 10 dead,” he said. “According to residents, his body was found near Ki-lun village on the Matupi-Hakha road.”
Another of the dead, Salai La Nang, was a 13-year-old boy who had gone hunting with the other victims — all men between the ages of 40 and 60 — on the afternoon of Jan. 6, when fighting erupted between the military and the CDF, residents said. They were captured by troops of the 140th Infantry Battalion based in Matupi, they added.
A woman who had accompanied the hunting party told RFA on condition of anonymity that she jumped off a cliff when the fighting began and escaped with only injuries to her face and head.
The military has stepped up arrests and clashes with the CDF in Chin state in recent months, after launching an offensive in the region in the aftermath of its Feb. 1, 2021, coup. Residents told RFA that security forces arrested some 50 young men over the course of a few days in the state’s Hakha region at the end of September on suspicion of membership in the CDF, releasing them only after the payment by family members of large sums of money.
CDF fighters had stopped attacking government troops at the request of residents who feared retaliation, but government troops and police on Sept. 29 began to stop pedestrians, searching mobile phones and taking many into custody.
Victims’ ‘throats cut’
When contacted for comment on the deaths by RFA on Tuesday, junta spokesman Deputy Information Minister Zaw Min Tun said that the military does not attack civilians.
“There were about 10 so-called terrorist PDFs attacking our security forces in the area,” he said. “There was a skirmish, and we confiscated some bodies and six guns, as well as four motorcycles, that were left behind. We have no reason to shoot at non-violent groups.”
Jay Kay, a leader of the Matupi CDF Battalion 2, dismissed Zaw Min Tun’s claims, telling RFA that none of the 10 bodies exhibited gunshot wounds and all but one were found with their hands tied and throats cut.
“One body found near Ka-se village has stab wounds in the neck — seven stab wounds,” he said, adding that the victims had been buried near the site where they were found.
Salai Za Op Lin, deputy executive director of the India-based Chin Human Rights Organization, called the killings “yet another war crime committed by the military” in Chin state.
“It is a war crime — killing a young boy and a journalist,” he said.
“It as a war crime to seize and kill ordinary villagers or use them as human shields,” he added, referring to reports of troops using hostages to defend themselves from CDF forces.
Salai Za Op Lin noted that the military had recently strengthened its forces in Matupi and expressed concern that more human rights abuses would take place.
Residents say more than 4,000 people from some 30 villages in Matupi have been displaced by fighting since the military launched an offensive in the region, most of whom are now sheltering with friends and family across the border in India.
Reported by Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.