A Myanmar military tribunal has sentenced six soldiers to 10 years in prison for killing three civilians in the war-torn state of Kachin, officials said Saturday, in a move welcomed by rights groups.
The Kachin state police office said the tribunal handed down the sentence after finding the soldiers guilty of killing three ethnic Kachin civilians in September.
Kachin state is home to an ethnic rebel army that has been fighting Myanmar’s military for years. More than 100,000 people in the state have fled the fighting.
The three civilians who were killed were among a group of five detained by soldiers in May while they were returning to their camp after gathering firewood. Two of the men were released, but three others never returned to the camp. Their bodies were later found in a shallow grave.
Rights groups said the prosecution of the six soldiers was rare and could indicate a step toward ending military impunity in Myanmar. Still, they raised concerns about the trial being held behind closed doors.
“There’s a good reason for the military to keep these trials behind closed doors: It makes it a lot easier to cover up widespread and systematic abuses,” said David Baulk, the Myanmar human rights specialist for Fortify Rights.
Myanmar’s military has been accused of violating human rights with impunity for decades. Most recently it has been accused of abuses during what it calls “clearance operations” against ethnic Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine state, which the United Nations has said amounts to ethnic cleansing.
Myanmar’s military last week made a rare public admission of killing 10 Rohingya Muslims in northern Rakhin.