One year on, no justice for Kachin teachers murdered in Myanmar
YANGON - Hundreds of people attended a memorial service in Yangon on Tuesday for two ethnic Kachin teachers murdered a year ago in a grisly crime rights groups say points to the impunity granted to the Myanmar army in conflict areas.
The killing of the women, aged 20 and 21, triggered a wave of public outrage, with activists alleging the pair were raped and murdered by soldiers stationed in the village where they worked in Shan state.
Myanmar's government vowed to probe the deaths thoroughly and punish any soldiers found to be involved.
Yet one year on no-one has been charged over the murders of Maran Lu Ra and Tangbau Hkawn Nan Tsin, despite pressure from the US State Department which urged a full investigation.
Rights groups believe police may have helped the Myanmar military cover-up the crime that took place near the border town of Muse.
The Kachin Baptist Convention (KBC), which ran the school where the two women volunteered as teachers, say authorities do not appear to be taking the case seriously.
"We still haven't received any answers or fairness," Reverend Samson Hkalam, KBC's secretary, said at Tuesday's church memorial, adding the crime was not a priority for officials.
"That shows how the justice system works in Myanmar."
Aung Htoom, a human rights lawyer based in Kachin, said police did not properly collect or process DNA evidence, including blood, fingerprints and hair, left at the crime scene.
"If this evidence was collected by the police systemically... we are 100 per cent sure it would be possible to identify the perpetrators," he said. "But the police didn't do so."
Rule of law remains especially weak in Myanmar's frontier regions, such as Shan and Kachin states, where ethnic rebel armies have been fighting the Myanmar military for decades, displacing hundreds of thousands of people.
The long-standing unrest, coupled with half a century of brutal junta rule, has bred deep mistrust of the Myanmar army.
The Tatmadaw, as the army is known, is accused by locals of getting away with serious rights abuses.
Next month, an elected government led by democracy champion Aung San Suu Kyi will take power from the quasi-civilian government that replaced outright military rule in 2011.
Last week, Suu Kyi said her party's landslide November election win, including in ethnic-majority areas, gives it a mandate to lead negotiations towards a nationwide ceasefire.
But she has to walk a careful line with the still-powerful army, which retains 25 per cent of all parliamentary seats as well as key defence and security positions in government.
Some rebels groups have already laid down their weapons but several others, including in Shan and Kachin states, continue to fight.
Concerns have been expressed over the talks' lack of inclusivity, as not all of the country's armed ethnic minorities have chosen to participate.