Rights groups want probe of civilians held by Myanmar army

BANGKOK (AP) — Rights groups are urging authorities in Myanmar to investigate and release information about two ethnic Kachin civilians believed to be held by soldiers in the country’s north, where fighting has raged between government forces and armed Kachin rebels.

Fortify Rights, a Southeast Asia-focused human rights group, urged Myanmar officials on Tuesday to account for the two Kachin civilians who were reportedly taken almost three weeks ago from a camp for the internally displaced in Kachin state’s Mai Hkawng village.

The seizure of civilians in ethnic minority regions by Myanmar’s army is not rare. Rights groups say they are usually taken by troops who accuse them of having a connection to armed rebel groups. They are also sometimes used as porters.

“More than two weeks have passed since the military detained them, and the authorities have blocked attempts to locate them, raising grave concerns,” said Matthew Smith, the head of Fortify Rights.

According to witnesses interviewed by Fortify Rights and local civil society groups, Hpaugan Yaw, 65, and Nhkum Naw San, 35, were taken into custody by soldiers on Jan. 31 while they were doing farm work. Two other civilians were detained with them but were released after several hours.

Asked about the location of the two still reportedly held, Kachin state police officer Min Zaw told The Associated Press they were detained by troops for crossing a restricted area but were later released. He provided no further details.

The Kachin rebel army has been fighting Myanmar’s military for years. An intensification of the fighting in 2011 led to the displacement of more than 100,000 people in Kachin state. More than a dozen other ethnic rebel groups have also been fighting the central government for greater autonomy for decades, and Myanmar’s army earned a reputation for extrajudicial killings, torture, forced labor, rape and other abuses against the various minority groups.

“It’s not unusual that the Myanmar army detains ethnic villagers, torturing them and interrogating them about ethnic armed groups,” said Sai Hor Hseng of the Shan Human Rights Foundation. “And villagers are usually used to lead the way and used as human shields in the fighting.”

Last year, Fortify Rights documented the Myanmar army’s interrogation of hundreds of ethnic Palaung villagers by beating and torturing them, which left one dead in northern Shan state.

The army has also been accused of systematic and gross human rights violations against the Rohingya Muslim minority in the western state of Rakhine, which has driven more than 700,000 Rohingya to flee to neighboring Bangladesh.

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