Myanmar army probes training abuse video

Myanmar's army members of the parliament arrive at the Union Parliament session in Naypyitaw on Jan 28, 2016.
Myanmar's army members of the parliament arrive at the Union Parliament session in Naypyitaw on Jan 28, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

YANGON (AFP) - Myanmar's powerful army on Thursday (Feb 4) vowed to launch an investigation into the apparent abuse of new recruits after a video of young soldiers being thrashed by senior officers went viral.

Mobile phone footage showing a line of uniformed soldiers being repeatedly punched and kicked inside what appears to be a Myanmar army barracks was watched by over half a million people and shared more than 50,000 times since it was posted Wednesday (Feb 3).

The outpouring of online outrage spurred the country's military to issue a rare comment.

"You or I would not accept such treatment, but it happened during a training class. We don't know the details. They had their reasons. It is still under investigation," said Colonel Khin Maung Cho, from the military's normally publicity-shy information team.

"I am very sure that action will be taken in this case, and not just a soft charge," he said, adding however, that this would depend on how army training officials decide to handle the case.

During the clip, which was one of three similar videos published on Facebook by an activist with the name "Friends of Moemaka", several young soldiers stand in a row as senior officers hit them in a dormitory.

The systematic beating, accompanied by a soundtrack of blasting pop and hip hop music, was apparently egged on by the person filming the video, who can be heard ordering one young recruit to keep his arms in the air as he was pummelled in the stomach.

"If they train like this, how will soldiers deal with people in the outside world? So it is hardly amazing for me when they behave badly," posted Jimmy Phang, in one of many disapproving comments under the video.

Myanmar's army has sought to rework its image since a quasi-civilian government replaced junta rule in 2011.

It has freed child soldiers and taken part in ceasefire negotiations with ethnic minority armed groups - although heavy fighting continues in some areas.

Army chief Min Aung Hlaing even has his own regularly updated Facebook page, seen by observers as a sign of the military's growing sophistication as it sets its sights on continued political sway - and greater ties with the West.

Unelected soldiers retain a quarter of all parliamentary seats and control over key ministries, despite a landslide win for Aung San Suu Kyi's pro-democracy party in November elections.

The army's image revamp is unlikely to quickly win over a nation still traumatised by junta repression.

Rights groups say the military still acts with impunity in conflict areas, including in the shooting of a journalist by troops in a southeastern border region in October 2014. His wife is now an NLD MP.

The deaths of two ethnic Kachin teachers last year also triggered a wave of public outrage, with activists accusing soldiers of raping and murdering the pair in the village where they worked in northeastern Shan state.

A year later no one has been charged with the killings.