Rights activists and the relatives of nearly 50 civilians brutally killed and burned a year ago in a Christmas Eve massacre in eastern Myanmar’s Kayah state blamed on ruling junta troops say they are still trying to bring the perpetrators to justice.
Soldiers forced the civilians from their vehicles, killed them and burned their bodies in the incident near Moso village in Hpruso township, drawing strong condemnation from the United Nations and the United States.
Despite clear evidence and witness accounts pointing to national troops as the perpetrators, Myanmar’s military junta denied responsibility for the killings and blamed anti-regime, pro-democratic resistance groups. The junta overthrew Myanmar’s elected government on Feb. 1, 2021.
Karenni State Police, comprised of police officers who participated in the country’s nationwide anti-junta Civil Disobedience Movement, confirmed that three minors and 45 locals, including two employees of the humanitarian aid group Save The Children and four Karenni border guards, had been killed.
Charred corpses and body parts from the massacre were buried, but the perpetrators have remained at large, said rights activists and family members of those who died.
“I want the military junta to take action and punish them for their crimes,” said a woman whose brother died in the massacre.
“I want to call on the people of Myanmar to take part in this process in whichever way they can because many people had to lose their lives unfairly,” she said.
The ethnic Karenni Nationalities Defense Force, an armed group fighting the junta, said it captured four junta soldiers from Infantry Battalion 108 under the 66th Division, who were allegedly involved in the massacre, in a battle on Dec. 3.
The ethnic force was interrogating a sergeant and three soldiers to determine if they were involved, said Mar Wi, secretary-2 of the Karenni Nationalities Defense Force.
“We are continuing with our effort to serve justice to those who were brutally and unfairly massacred,” he told RFA. “We will continue standing up for them.”
Banyar, director of the Karenni National Human Rights Group, or KnHRG, said his organization is preparing to file a lawsuit in Germany over the incident, following another lawsuit against the junta filed in Australia in March by Myanmar’s shadow National Unity Government, or NUG.
“We can then continue in a legal way to take action against the junta,” he said.
The NUG also is pursuing legal action against the junta in courts in other countries and at the International Criminal Court, for the regime’s rights violations throughout Myanmar, including the Moso massacre, said Aung Myo Min, the NUG’s human rights minister, in May.
The military junta has blamed the massacre on anti-regime People’s Defense Forces — the armed wing of the NUG — and the Karenni National Progressive Party, an ethnic political organization in Kayah state whose armed wing, the Karenni Army, has fought against government forces for decades. The civilians died during an exchange between anti-regime forces and national troops who tried to intercept seven vehicles driving towards Moso village at that time, said the junta.
The NUG is determined to hold the perpetrators of the mass killing to account, said Kyaw Zaw, spokesman for the NUG president’s office.
“According to international law, the process of suing in international courts sometimes takes a long time, but the perpetrators will never get away with their crimes,” he told RFA.
Nearly 290 civilians have been killed by junta soldiers in Kayah state between February 2021 and this December, according to the Karenni Social Organizations Network, which records human rights violations.
In addition, more than 200,000 civilians have fled their homes in the state due to ongoing clashes between junta troops and anti-regime forces.
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