Myanmar villagers say the army beheaded a high school teacher

BANGKOK (AP) – The decapitated body of a high school teacher was left on a grotesque display at a school in central Myanmar after he was arrested and killed by the military, witnesses said Thursday, marking the latest in a series of abuses the military says has been used to crush the opposition. military government.

According to witness accounts and photos taken in Taung Myint village in rural Magway region, the headless body of 46-year-old Saw Tun Moe was left on the ground in front of the spiked school gate with his head impaled on top of it. The school, which has been closed since last year, also burned down.

Neither the military government nor the state-controlled media published information about the teacher’s death.

Myanmar’s military has arrested tens of thousands of people and is accused of killing more than 2,300 civilians since it took power from the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi last year.

“We are appalled by reports that the Burmese military regime has arrested, publicly mutilated and beheaded a school teacher in the Magway region,” US State Department spokesman Ned Price said on Twitter. “The regime’s brutal violence, including against educators, requires a strong response from the international community.” The United States officially refers to Myanmar by its old name Burma, which was changed by the previous military government.

In September, at least seven young students were killed in a helicopter attack on a Buddhist monastery school in the Sagaing region of north-central Myanmar. The military government has denied responsibility for the attacks. The UN has documented 260 attacks on schools and educational staff since the military took over, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child said in June.

Myanmar has been in turmoil since the military took power in February 2021, encountering peaceful protests across the country and civil disobedience that security forces have suppressed with lethal force. The crackdown led to widespread armed resistance, which has since turned into what UN experts have described as a civil war.

The military has waged major offensives in the countryside, including burning villages and driving hundreds of thousands of people from their homes, giving them little or no access to humanitarian aid.

Myanmar’s military has long been accused of serious human rights abuses, particularly in the western state of Rakhine. International courts are considering whether he committed genocide there in a brutal 2017 campaign against insurgents that saw more than 700,000 members of the Rohingya Muslim minority flee to neighboring Bangladesh for safety.

The slain teacher, Saw Tun Moe, was a longtime educator who took part in anti-military protests before taking over a high school founded by the country’s pro-democracy movement in his home village of Thit Nyi Naung.

The Government of National Unity, an underground organization opposed to military rule that calls itself the country’s legitimate administrative body, opened a network of schools this year as a temporary education system in parts of the country it believed armed militias loyal to it were strong enough to defend themselves.

Saw Tun Moe also taught mathematics in his village school and another nearby alternative school and was involved in the administration of Thit Nyi Naung, where he lived with his family. He previously taught at a private school in Magway, also known as Magwe, for 20 years.

The NUG’s education department mourned his death in a statement late Thursday praising him and other fallen teachers as “revolutionary heroes” and expressing solidarity with teachers and students who continue to resist the army.

His death came as a convoy of about 90 government soldiers cleared at least a dozen villages this month.

A villager told The Associated Press by phone that she was among about two dozen villagers, including Saw Tun Moe, who were hiding behind a hut in a groundnut field at 9:30 a.m. Sunday when a group of more than 80 soldiers arrived, accompanied by armed civilians. , firing a gun into the air. The military arms and employs civilian auxiliaries who serve as guides and participate in raids.

The villager, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of being punished by the authorities, said they were caught by the soldiers, who confiscated their phones and other belongings and, on the command of an officer, separated three men from the group, but took away only Sau Tun Moe .

“Our heads were bowed at the time and we didn’t dare to look at them. Later, one of the soldiers called him: “Come. Come fat, follow us”, and took him away. “The soldiers treated him gently, so we didn’t think it would happen,” said the local.

She said Saw Tun Moe was taken to Taung Myint village, more than a kilometer (almost a mile) north of Thit Nyi Naung, and killed there the next day.

“On Monday morning I found out that he was killed. It is very sad to lose a good teacher on whom we depended for the education of our children”, added the local resident. She said her two children study at his school.

A villager from Taung Myint village said he saw Saw Tun Moe’s body at around 11am on Monday after the soldiers left.

“First I called my friends, and then I looked more closely at the body. I knew immediately that it was teacher Moe. He has been visiting our village as a teacher for the past few months, so I recognized his face,” said a Taung Myint villager, who also asked not to be named for his safety.

The body and head of the teacher can be seen in the photos taken by his friend. An old campaign poster with photos of Suu Kyi covered the corpse’s thigh. According to the locals, the severed fingers of his right hand were placed between his thighs. The three-finger salute is a gesture adopted by the country’s civil disobedience movement, inspired by the “Hunger Games” series.

On the outer wall of the school, which was partially burned by soldiers on Sunday, graffiti was scrawled with the ominous warning: “I’ll be back, you (expletive) who ran away.”

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