YANGON, Myanmar – Myanmar's army shot dead a journalist who was detained while covering clashes between the army and ethnic rebels at the rugged border, saying he reached for a soldier's gun during an attempted escape, the press council said Friday.
It released a military statement that said Aung Naing was arrested Sept. 30 after an attack on the army near Kyaikmaraw in Mon state in eastern Myanmar, and that an interrogation revealed he was an information officer for an armed ethnic Karen group. The journalist's full name, not given in the statement, is Aung Kyaw Naing.
The statement said he was killed on Oct. 4, and that his body had been properly buried near a village.
It's not clear why the information was only now released. The interim press council was formed under the aegis of the president and asked for the military's information last week.
"We are saddened by this news," council member Zaw Thet Htway said, asking how the military decided unilaterally to bury the body and why it waited to release the information.
"Whether he was a journalist or an officer from an armed group, this is a human rights violation," Htway said. "We need to find out the truth about what happened."
Despite efforts for a nationwide peace accord to end six decades of conflict, clashes between ethnic armed groups and government troops have occurred in Myanmar's eastern, northern and southeastern regions. Recent clashes reported in Karen, Shan and Kachin states cast doubt over a ceasefire signing planned this year.
Ethnic minorities have been seeking greater autonomy for decades, and they have condemned government counter-insurgency campaigns for their brutality.
The circumstances of the case raised questions of whether Aung Kyaw Naing had died of abuse during interrogation by the army, said Shawn Crispin, the senior Southeast Asia representative of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists.
"We strongly condemn the killing of Aung Kyaw Naing while in military custody," Crispin, who works in Bangkok, told The Associated Press. He said a civilian investigation should establish the facts of the killing and ensure that justice is done.
Crispin noted that even before the military reported the journalist's death, Aung Kyaw Naing's wife had raised concerns about his safety in military custody. The delay in revealing the death, along with the burial in a remote area, suggested a "potential cover-up of torture" by the army, he said.
"If he is dead, I want to get his body back," Aung Kyaw Naing's wife, Than Dar, was quoted as saying Friday by the Myanmar online news site The Irrawaddy. "I could not accept that he has died. I will continue fighting for justice." She told The Irawadddy that she had not been informed of her husband's death prior to its call to her.
"I don't want any wives or daughters to suffer like we suffer. I will proceed with the charges (against the army) for torture and death," said Than Dar, who is a political activist. The site had previously quoted her saying that she had filed a missing persons report and a complaint of possible kidnapping with police in the area where he disappeared.
The Irrawaddy also reported that the rebel group to which the army said Aung Kyaw Naing belonged denied the allegation.