Myanmar soldiers confess to gang-raping Rakhine woman

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YANGON, Myanmar 

After some two months of constant denials, Myanmar’s military has finally admitted that three soldiers gang-raped a woman in the conflict-ridden Rakhine state.

In late June a 37-year-old Buddhist woman of the Rakhine ethnicity filed a complaint with a police station in the state capital Sittwe against three soldiers, accusing them of gang rape.

The military’s True News Information Team, however, denied the allegation in a July 2 statement, saying after interrogating the accused soldiers the case was found to be fabricated. 

But this week Zaw Min Tun, a spokesman for the team, told local media that three soldiers admitted in a second round of interrogation that they had committed the rape.

“The military court will take action against the three soldiers under the 1959 Defense Services Act and also under civilian law,” Zaw Min Tun was quoted as saying by local daily The Myanmar Times.

He did not elaborate how and when the soldiers will be transferred to a civilian court.

The victim, who is a mother of four children, was raped by three soldiers at gunpoint on June 29 while the troops were stationed overnight in the village of Oo Gar in the Rathedaung Township.

According to testimony, the soldiers gave her 20,000 Myanmar kyats (around $15) and warned her not to report it to police. They also tried to rape the victim’s 19-year-old daughter.

Lawyer Aye Thuzar from Legal Clinic Myanmar, an NGO fighting on behalf of the victim, called for transparency in the military judicial process as well as for transferring the accused soldiers to a civilian court.

“We learned that the soldiers admitted to the rape during a military interrogation and action will be taken against them under military law,” she told Anadolu Agency by phone.

“But we don’t know yet if the soldiers will be transferred to a civilian court.”

Nyo Aye, a representative of the Rakhine Women Network, said women are subjected to sexual abuse by soldiers who assume they have the right to do so.

“We need to end the culture of impunity. These soldiers must be punished for what they did, and judicial process must be completed with full transparency,” she told Anadolu Agency by phone on Friday.

“So the accused soldiers must be transferred to Sittwe court and their testimony must be publicized,” she said.

Rakhine state has seen an escalating armed conflict between the military and the Arakan Army, a militant group that recruits mainly from the Buddhist Rakhine ethnic community, since the group shifted its base to the volatile region in late 2018.

According to Radio Free Asia’s Burmese services, at least 289 civilians have been killed in Rakhine state and its adjacent Chin state since December 2018.

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