MYITKYINA, Myanmar (AFP) - Thousands of mourners gathered Friday for the funerals of two young teachers who activists allege were murdered by soldiers in northern Myanmar, as the government promised an inquiry into their deaths.
Tearful wellwishers packed into a hall in Myitkyina, the state capital of war-torn northern Kachin state, to pay respects to the two women, whose deaths have sparked an outpouring of public anger and grief.
The crowd had swollen into the thousands and spilled out onto surrounding roads as service began, according to a witness at the scene who spoke to AFP by phone.
"Kachin musicians are singing songs for the girls. Most people look very unhappy and some are weeping," Awng La said.
The battered bodies of the women were discovered early this week when students visited their house in a remote village near the border town of Muse in northern Shan state, worried that they had failed to turn up for morning lessons, according to state-backed media.
They had suffered stab wounds and head injuries, the Global New Light of Myanmar reported Friday, adding that a steel blade was found at the property.
The deaths have struck a bitter chord for many in Shan and neighbouring Kachin state, both wracked by conflict between the army and ethnic minority rebels in recent years.
Myanmar on Thursday vowed to investigate the deaths and promised that any involvement by army troops - if proved - would not go unpunished.
The country's quasi-civilian government is struggling to ink a nationwide ceasefire deal as part of its reform drive since replacing outright military rule in 2011.
But decades under the iron-fisted junta and years of bloody conflict in the country's borderlands have left a legacy of deep distrust of the military, which was long accused of committing abuses with impunity.
The Kachin Baptist Convention (KBC), which ran the school where the women worked, has said it believes they were raped and severely beaten before being killed.
Images of their injured corpses have been widely circulated on social media, stirring outrage.
"I broke down when I first read the news. Now I feel despair," said Julia, an ethnic Kachin who said one of the dead women was a distant relation.
"I am campaigning for true justice," she told AFP early Friday at a sombre ceremony in honour of the teachers in Yangon.