Chiang Mai/New Delhi (Mizzima) – Authorities in the city of Pegu, in a bid to pre-empt any potential unrest, made their presence felt at today’s funeral of two young men witnesses said were killed at the hands of soldiers.
Aung Thu Hein, 23, and Soe Paing Zaw, 18, were reportedly hunted down by troops from Infantry Battalion 59 late on September 4 after a traffic altercation and ensuing brawl left one of their officers injured. Witnesses said two officers shot the youths dead, “execution style”.
A doctor at the hospital where their bodies were taken reportedly said Aung Thu Hein had died of six gunshot wounds, while Soe Paing Zaw had been shot four times.
With the local population angered over the officers’ actions, authorities took a firm hold of the funeral proceedings.
“Authorities tightened security. Police, intelligence agents, Ward Peace and Development Council officials and firemen were camped across the area,” a resident said. “But, only plain-clothes police, firemen and members from the Red Cross Society were in the cemetery.”
Officials also cordoned off with barbed wire the streets leading to the hospital morgue where the bodies of the youths were being kept, a resident said.
Another onlooker reported: “I’m 28 years old. I have never seen a funeral with such a tight security plan in my life. There were officers from Special Branch police, Military Affairs Security, division and district police stations and all three of the township’s police stations.”
San Yi, a grandmother of Aung Thu Hein, told Mizzima that officials prevented the family from taking the lead in funeral arrangements.
“We were denied the right to arrange it [the funeral] but we asked to exercise the right to arrange the transport, and we bought the coffin,” she said.
The proceedings were attended by more than 2,000, witnesses estimated, and attendees were prevented from approaching the coffins, they said.
“Many people are on the road to watch the event. Currently, the number of people is much greater than an hour ago. At first, there were 300 to 400 people. Now, about 10 buses have arrived and there are many cars and motorcycles. It’s a crowded funeral,” a Pegu resident said.
“A bus can carry about 30 to 40 people, so there are about 400 people on the buses. If the people from cars and motorcycles are taken into account, there’ll be about another 500 to 1,000 people,” he added.
Twenty buses were said to have finally made their way to the cemetery.
Tension among those in attendance was palpable, as onlookers and relatives felt constrained by the large security detail.
“I’m worried that the authorities will be angry with us if something’s wrong,” San Yi said. “I’m 65 years old. We are poor and can’t do anything. I’m a peddler. I’m worried that my business will be disturbed. So, I can’t answer all of your questions. Please, don’t be angry.”
“Another thing is that there are many opportunists who want to exploit this case. So, I have to control the situation. That’s why I can’t disclose all. Please, understand me,” she said.
“It was an unusual funeral, so people were very interested in it. Many people were on the road to watch the event. They seemed very sad. Some of the attendees were strangers to the victims’ families. Some attendees cried,” another resident said. “But, they didn’t show anger on their faces. People dared not criticise the authorities because of the strict security. I think even the victims’ families had to be silent, though they feel extremely sad.”
Pegu Police Station No. 1, when contacted by Mizzima, refused to deny or confirm reports of some unrest during the proceedings.
Reports yesterday said a battalion general staff officer had offered the families one million kyat (US$1,000) in compensation, provided they remained silent over the shootings, further fuelling anger among the city’s population.
The incident was ignited after a trishaw in which the youths were riding and a bicycle carrying the officers collided at around midnight on Saturday. Both sides eventually parted ways after exchanging blows.
However, the officers, accompanied by eight soldiers, later returned to the city to locate the youths. Finding them at a local teashop, the youths were gunned down after another exchange of words. Both the youths and soldiers appeared intoxicated, witnesses said.
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