Myanmar army admits that 5 villagers were killed during interrogation by soldiers

YANGON (AFP) - Myanmar's military said on Wednesday (July 20) it was investigating the death of five villagers during an interrogation by soldiers and would punish wrongdoers, a rare admission from an army long accused of rights abuses.

The military's chief of security admitted that five villagers in insurgent-torn Shan state were killed during an interrogation by soldiers last month. Their bodies were discovered in shallow graves several days later, prompting locals to accuse the officers of murder.

"A military tribunal studied the facts and found that it was not in accord with regulations," Mr Mya Tun Oo said of the interrogation. "Homicide happened as (the soldiers) didn't follow regulations. I would like you to know that we are going to take effective action against those who were responsible."

The admission comes during a time of rapid change for the military's role in Myanmar, which is now led by its first civilian administration in decades.

The military, which ruled over the impoverished country for nearly half a century until 2011, seldom admits wrongdoings despite a stewardship marked by brutal repression.

Rights groups say it has a particularly poor record of abuse in frontier states, where troops are locked in long-running wars with ethnic rebels.

It has been accused of everything from using child labour to running a booming drug trade in the remote border regions.

The army, which gave way in 2011 to a quasi-civilian government, has been increasingly keen to improve its reputation as Myanmar launches onto the world stage.

Although it allowed the historic November polls that brought democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi to power, the military still controls key levers of government and large swathes of the economy.

So far, Ms Suu Kyi has taken a conciliatory approach to the generals who kept her under house arrest for years.

Analysts say the veteran activist must walk a careful line with the military as she focuses on securing a peace deal with several ethnic rebel armies still battling state troops.