Myanmar should investigate girl's killing, say rights groups

Activists carry flowers during a protest against Myanmar's army heavy weapons strike in the strife-torn northern Kachin state, in Yangon on November 23, 2014. Myanmar's powerful army has admitted a heavy weapons strike in strife-torn northern Kachin state that rebels say killed over 20 people, government-backed media said on November 21, as escalation of the fighting cast doubt over faltering peace talks.

YANGON - Myanmar's government should investigate the military's alleged killing of a 14-year-old girl whose father is being prosecuted for making "false charges" after filing a complaint about the attack, rights groups said Saturday.

The girl, Ja Seng Ing, was shot by soldiers in September 2012 in her village in Kachin state, according to a 42-page report based on witness testimonies collected by a coalition of rights groups.

Myanmar's military has been battling the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), an ethnic guerilla group in the northern state bordering China, since a ceasefire agreement broke down in 2011.

"Eyewitnesses allege that Myanmar army soldiers shot her at close range during a period of indiscriminate gunfire," said a report by the Ja Seng Ing Truth Finding Committee, which also conducted a "physical investigation of the alleged crime scene".

The military has no spokesman and does not talk to journalists. Myanmar government spokesman Ye Htut did not respond to emailed questions and his office did not answer phone calls requesting comment.

The army said Ja Seng Ing was killed by a mine detonated by the KIA, contradicting villagers who said soldiers opened fire on her and her friends at close range, the report said.

Her father, Brang Shawng, wrote to President Thein Sein and the Human Rights Commission requesting an investigation.

Subsequently, the military took him to court for making "false charges", which carries a sentence of up to two years in prison.

Bangkok-based Fortify Rights has documented abuses perpetrated by the military against civilians including killings and torture, said the rights group's executive director Matthew Smith, who urged the military to drop the charges against Brang Shawng and end impunity for soldiers.

The KIA's second-in-command, General Gun Maw, accused the military of lying about the case of Ja Seng Ing.

"That's why the Kachin community doesn't trust the Burmese military," he told Reuters using alternative name for Myanmar.

The latest round of peace talks between guerrilla groups and the semi-civilian government that took over in 2011 after nearly 50 years of military rule ended on Sept. 27 without agreement.

Most of the rebel groups have been battling for greater autonomy under a federal system but the military has long stressed the need for a strong, centralised government, as set down in a 2008 military-drafted constitution.

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