RANGOON — Six ethnic Chin farmers who fled after having been arrested and allegedly tortured by the Burma Army returned to their village in Chin State’s Palatwa Township last week, a local community leader said, adding that the villagers were now demanding that an army commander be replaced.
Sein Aung, of the Palatwa Ceasefire Monitoring Group, said five farmers came back on Oct. 7 and a sixth on Oct. 11, after having fled the village of Kone Pyin on Sept. 21.
Sein Aung said the villagers returned after the Ceasefire Monitoring Group met with Tactical Commander Col. Kyaw Kyaw Win, who oversees Light Infantry Unit 344 and several other units in Chin State, to get guarantees that the men would be safe from retribution by the army.
“The villagers only want to Light Infantry Unit 344 to be moved away from their township. And if so, their concerns will be gone,” he added.
The Palatwa Ceasefire Monitoring Group comprises local community leaders and NGO representatives and is tasked with monitoring the implementation of the ceasefire between the CNF and the government. It follows troop movements and other conflict-related events in the area.
Chin human rights groups and one of the farmers from Palatwa have told the media that Light Infantry Unit 344 headed by Maj. Tin Htut Oo had detained six farmers for nine days in August, during which they were interrogated and severely beaten.
The men had been detained after the soldiers found out that they had offered armed Chin National Front (CNF) fighters a meal during a harvest festival in the village of Kone Pyin in August.
Shortly after they made the allegations in mid-September, five farmers were rearrested. They were held for two days and forced to sign a statement under duress stating that the beatings never happened. After their release on Sept. 21, they fled to the Burma-India border.
Tluang Ceu, general secretary of the Chin Ceasefire Monitoring Team, said he discussed the torture allegations with Col. Kyaw Kyaw Win on Oct. 10 and had demanded that Maj. Tin Htut Oo be punished.
“The colonel is preparing to take action against Maj. Tin Htut Oo but because of nature of the military [command chain], it’s difficult to transfer him from the region immediately,” Tluang Ceu told The Irrawaddy.
Sein Aung said, however, that the ceasefire monitoring had concluded that the CNF fighters had contributed to the situation by coming into Kone Pyin village in uniform and carrying arms, an act that had violated conditions of the bilateral ceasefire agreement between the CNF and the government that was signed in 2012.
Salai Isaac Khen, a Chin activist and executive director of Gender and Development Initiative, said the incident had occurred because the ceasefire agreement failed to set out conditions that would help protect civilians living in the conflict zone.
“This case is happened because in the ceasefire agreement there have no clear requirements for taking action when local people are affected by the Burmese military and the CNF,” he said.
With the help of Chin NGOs, one of the farmers sent a letter of complaint to Burma Army Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing and the Chin State Chief Minister.