By Kantarawaddy Times
Human rights groups have still not been able to collect all the remains of villagers massacred by the Burma Army (BA) in Hpruso Township because the military attacks them every time they try.
“We have already counted 27 bodies, but some are still in a vehicle and every time we approach it, soldiers shoots at us,” Banyar, director of the Karenni Human Rights Group (KHRG), told Kantarawaddy Times on Monday.
Fighting with Karenni resistance groups intensified in the region over the weekend after the army murdered the civilians on Christmas Eve and burnt their bodies along with the vehicles they were travelling in Karenni State.
The Karenni Nationalities Defence Force (KNDF), which is fighting alongside the Karenni Army against the BA, has confirmed that 35 people, including women and children, were killed. They could not identify anyone as the bodies were badly charred. BA soldiers burnt seven vehicles, including a truck and five motorbikes.
Banyar said eight people from Loikaw, the capital of Karenni State, were missing, two Save the Children staff, four from Lor Jar and one person from Kho Ra Khu.
A relative of a 25-year-old man from Lor Jar who went missing called him when they heard gunshots. ”He told us he would call us back. After that, we couldn’t call him,” he told Kantarawaddy Times. The missing man wanted to help villagers escape the fighting that has forced at least 20 villages in western Hpruso Township to flee.
According to Banyar, they are waiting to cremate the deceased until they can identify them and collect the remaining bodies at the site of the massacre near Mo So, but the BA is stopping them. ”What we can do is try to find family members and relatives of the victims.”
Most of those killed were arrested when they tried to flee the fighting near the village. Four members of the Karenni Nationalities People’s Liberation Front were shot dead with their hands tied behind their backs after trying to negotiate the release of villagers. The group had signed a ceasefire in 1994 and later transformed itself into a Border Guard Force aligned with the BA.
According to the KNDF, soldiers from the BA Light Infantry Battalion 108 and Light Infantry Division 66 are responsible for the massacre while 108 has been conducting a clearance operation in the area.
Fifty-nine civil society organisations, including ethnic armed groups, condemned the massacre in a joint statement, calling the killings ”crimes against humanity”.
The United Nations (UN) has called for an investigation into the massacre. On Sunday, Martin Griffiths, UN’s Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, said: “I condemn this grievous incident and all attacks against civilians throughout the country, which are prohibited under international humanitarian law.”