US, wife, raise concerns over Myanmar reporter's death

US, wife, raise concerns over Myanmar reporter's death
Thandar (C) talks at the 88 Generation students office during a press conference about her late husband Aung Naing, in Yangon on October 29, 2014.

YANGON - The wife of a reporter shot by Myanmar soldiers while in army custody denounced on Wednesday the military's version of the killing, as the United States voiced "serious concern" over the incident.

At an emotional press conference in Yangon, Thandar angrily dismissed an army statement on the shooting, which said that her husband was a member of a rebel group in the volatile eastern border region where he was arrested in early October.

"My husband was never a member of an armed group. His friends and everyone who knows him knows that he was a very gentle person. He was never in a fight," she told reporters of her husband Aung Naing, who was also known as Par Gyi.

Aung Naing was gunned down as he tried to flee detention in the town of Kyaikmaraw in the southeastern state of Mon on October 4, according to a statement last week from the military.

The US embassy in Yangon said it had raised "serious concern" with the Myanmar government over the killing.

Its statement came just days before President Barack Obama is due to visit the once-cloistered nation as it hosts a major regional conference in November.

"We call on the government to conduct a credible and transparent investigation into the circumstances surrounding his death, and to hold the perpetrators accountable," a US official said.

Thandar, who goes by only one name, said her husband was a freelance journalist covering unrest in the border region, where fighting between troops and rebels has flared in recent weeks.

"I do not want any other citizen to go through what Par Gyi went through," she said.

She added that she was working to have her husband's body exhumed to check his injuries and get a better understanding of the circumstances of his death, but was awaiting permission from local police.

Aung Naing had previous long-standing connections to the democracy movement, including acting as a security guard for opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi during mass protests in 1988 against the then-junta government, which were brutally crushed by the military.

Last week the US-based Committee to Protect Journalists said Aung Naing was thought to have worked for several local news titles. But the interim Myanmar Press Council was unable to confirm his status as a reporter.

Reporters were regularly detained under the former junta, which passed long jail sentences on journalists while choking off information with some of the world's most draconian censorship rules.

Reforms implemented by the current regime, including freeing most political prisoners and lifting pre-publication press scrutiny, have been praised by the international community as the country opens up.

But the jailing of several journalists this year has raised fears that Myanmar could be backsliding on media freedoms.

Ko Ko Gyi, a prominent rights campaigner with the Generation 88 movement, urged the military to respond to concerns about the death swiftly and transparently.

"We believe there will be no reconciliation if they hide the truth," he said.

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