The Myanmar military is continuing to wage fresh atrocities against ethnic minorities in the conflict-riven north of the country, according to a new report by human rights group Amnesty International.
The report details harrowing accounts of ethnic Kachin, Lisu, Shan and Ta’ang civilians being arbitrarily arrested, detained and tortured by the armed forces.
It also sheds a light on abusive tactics used by ethnic armed groups as they confront the military and fight among themselves to exert control over Shan State, a region rich in mineral resources and also part of the Golden Triangle where much of the world’s opium and heroin is illegally produced.
“The Myanmar military is as relentless and ruthless as ever, committing war crimes against civilians in northern Shan State with absolute impunity,” alleged Nicholas Bequelin, Amnesty International’s Director for East and Southeast Asia.
“Soldiers – and more importantly commanders – are subjecting civilians to the military’s hallmark brutality in the absence of any form of accountability.”
Alongside Rakhine – the home of the persecuted Muslim Rohingya minority – the largely Buddhist and Christian Kachin and Shan states have also seen decades of internal conflict.
Kachin insurgents, including the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), have fought with government soldiers for more autonomy since 1961, and frequently clashed with the military in Shan state.
Human rights experts have spoken of a pattern of abuses by Myanmar regiments, including detaining and torturing men and boys on the basis of their ethnicity.
In one incident described in the report, soldiers detained and tortured two ethnic Kachin villagers who had been fishing in Shan’s Kutkai Township in March.
“[A soldier asked] ‘Are you KIA?’ I said ‘no’, then they started punching and kicking me. They forced me to take off my clothes [and] held a knife to my neck,” said one of the men.
“Then they forced me to squat with my fingers on my knees… They told me if I moved they would cut off my fingers… They put a grenade in my mouth… I was afraid if I moved it would explode.”
Civilian witnesses told Amnesty that the military’s notorious 99th Light Infantry Division were involved in many violations.
The battle-hardened counter-insurgency force has a reputation for ruthlessness and its units were implicated in some of the worst atrocities that drove over 700,000 Rohingya across the border into Bangladesh, where they now languish in squalid refugee camps.
The report also accuses ethnic armed groups of “heinous abuses” including abduction and forced labour. Thousands of civilians have been forced to flee their homes over the last year as fighting moves closer to villages, it said.
The Myanmar government did not respond to a request for comment.