Two senior commanders of the Karen National Defence Organisation (KNDO) have admitted that security forces under their control detained and later killed 25 men in June in its territory near Myanmar’s border with Thailand, human rights group Fortify Rights has said.
General Ner Dah Bo Mya and Lieutenant Saw Ba Wah, who have been suspended from their posts, told Fortify Rights that their men were responsible.
General Ner Dah Bo Mya denied wrongdoing, saying the men, who were not armed and not in uniform, were “spies” for the military and that his troops “had to finish them up, otherwise they try to run away during the fighting and then they would come back and it would be very hard for us.” The order came from a “captain of intelligence” at the Karen National Union (KNU) – the political group that controls the KNDO – the general added.
Fortify Rights said the KNU had confirmed they would cooperate with international investigators and share evidence of the killing and other crimes, as well as conducting its own investigation into the atrocities.
The killing amounts to a war crime. Fortify Rights said on Tuesday.
“This was a massacre and it should be investigated and prosecuted,” Matthew Smith, the CEO at Fortify Rights said in a statement. “The KNU is setting an important example in transparency, cooperation and commitment to share evidence of atrocities with international justice mechanisms.”
The incident first came to light after state media in June accused fighters from the KNDO of killing 25 people it said were civilians working on a road construction project.
The men were part of a group of 47 people, including 16 women and children, who were detained by the KNDO on May 31 in Kanele village in Karen state. The 25 men were killed on June 1 and the remainder of the group released over the following week, Fortify Rights said.
As well as interviewing General Ner Dah Bo Mya and Lieutenant Saw Ba Wah, the rights group also interviewed a representative of the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), a member of Karen civil society and independent analysts about what happened on June 1. It also reviewed and analysed mobile phone video and images.
Myanmar has been in a state of turmoil since the military seized power in a coup on February 1 with the KNU, one of the country’s biggest ethnic armed groups, providing shelter to those fighting against the takeover.
In March, Karen fighters seized a military post and the army retaliated with air raids, the first in more than 20 years in the state, which lies along the Thai border. The clashes forced at least 100,000 people from their homes, according to the United Nations.
The military has been accused of human rights abuses in its crackdown on the anti-coup movement with 1,000 people killed since the coup, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.
It is also being investigated for genocide over its brutal crackdown on the minority Rohingya in 2017 that forced hundreds and thousands to flee into Bangladesh.