YANGON—The Myanmar military and the Arakan Army (AA) have denied responsibility for the deaths of three civilians killed last week in Chin State’s Paletwa Township.
According to local residents, a teacher from Se Phalaung Village and two civilians from Kyet U Wa Village in Paletwa were abducted by a group of men last Tuesday and the three were found dead on Friday with their hands tied and knife wounds in a forest a little over 3 kilometers from urban Paletwa.
The Khumi Affairs Coordination Council (KACC), a local civil society organization, said in a statement on Friday that the three were abducted by AA fighters.
Two days later, the AA released a statement denying responsibility for their deaths and accusing the Myanmar military of being responsible for the killings. The same day, the Myanmar military responded that the three were killed by the AA.
“All the villagers know [that the three were abducted by the AA]. The AA’s accusation is baseless. They arrested the three while they were sitting in their house around 8 p.m. on Jan. 7. Everyone knows it was the AA,” said military spokesman Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun.
The AA said the places where the civilians were abducted and killed are under the control of the Myanmar military’s Paletwa operations command and Light Infantry Battalion 289, and that AA fighters cannot enter the area.
Brig-Gen Zaw Min Tun responded that the ethnic armed group even carries out attacks near civilian areas in Mrauk-U and Minbya townships.
“The entire village knows that the AA is responsible. But the AA is shifting the blame onto others. As I have said, they are the most cowardly group among ethnic armed organizations. They don’t admit what they do and also torture civilians,” said Brig-Gen Zaw Min Tun.
AA information officer U Khaing Thukha said the Myanmar military is trying to use the murder of the three civilians for political advantage.
“The Bamar army killed them and their propagandists talk like they were killed by the AA,” said U Khaing Thukha.
“We guess they are using dirty tricks to set us up before the visit of the Chinese president,” he added.
The place where the civilians were murdered is near the back of the military headquarters that commands around 27 battalions and is surrounded by military outposts and artillery, according to U Khaing Thukha.
The AA has also accused the KACC of supporting the Myanmar military.
The KACC also said in its statement that the AA fighters beat several civilians and attempted to rape an ethnic Khumi woman in Paletwa’s Kye Lei Village last Wednesday.
The AA confessed to beating the civilians but denied the sexual assault. U Khaing Thukha said soldiers involved in the beating have been punished.
When asked by The Irrawaddy about the AA’s response, KACC spokesperson U Saw Mya said, “We can’t respond for the time being. We have yet to conduct meetings.”
U Khaing Thukha said that in cases of abuse by AA soldiers, civilians can file complaints via the group’s website, arakanarmy.net.
Last year, the Myanmar military said AA fighters were abusing civilians while disguised as Myanmar military soldiers. The military urged civilians to file complaints with nearby military officers in cases of abuse.