Myanmar soldiers jailed for village murders in rare case

  • Published
Villagers hold up pictures of the murdered menImage source, Reuters
Image caption,
These women all lost relatives

Myanmar has sentenced a group of soldiers to five years of hard labour for the murders of five villagers.

The seven soldiers - four of them officers - confessed to the killings after the men's bodies were found with knife wounds in a shallow grave.

They had been among a group rounded up by soldiers in June, suspected of helping rebel militia in eastern Shan state.

The case is a rare example of a military prosecution in Myanmar.

The sentences were handed down in a military court on Thursday.

Activist Sai Kaung Kham, who helped the families of the ethnic minority men in Mong Yaw village demand justice for the killings, said he was surprised the military had taken any action at all.

"The fact they have been sentenced to imprisonment is better than nothing," he told Reuters.

However, the military has not accepted responsibility for the deaths of two other men killed fleeing the village on a motorcycle.

Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, was run by a military junta until 2011.

An unusual move: By Jonah Fisher, BBC News, Myanmar

It's extremely rare that the Burmese army acknowledges its own brutality, let alone prosecutes those responsible.

During decades of conflict with ethnic armed groups there have been countless atrocities recorded. Villages have been burnt, men tortured and killed, porters seized. Human Rights Watch called it a "deeply entrenched culture of abuse".

This court case then could be significant. Though the sentences are shockingly light the very fact that soldiers were prosecuted marks a change.

Whether it's a blip, or culture change is hard to say. In the last two years, there have been two other high-profile cases in which soldiers are alleged to have murdered civilians.

Despite huge public interest in the killing of two Kachin school-teachers and a journalist the perpetrators went unpunished.