RANGOON — The Burmese military has launched an investigation into allegations that a soldier raped a 13-year-old girl in the country’s southeast, amid continued reports by civilians that sexual abuse by armed forces remains a dire problem despite political reforms.
A soldier from the Burma Army’s Infantry Battalion 31 has been accused of raping the girl at her home in Kawzar sub-township, Mon State, while her parents were away. He was reportedly visiting the house to pick up dry vegetation to build thatched roofs for his battalion’s housing.
The girl was discovered by a community leader, who brought her to a local hospital. “The girl told me that her hands were tied and she was raped,” he told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday, requesting anonymity due to the sensitivity of the case. He said a medical examination confirmed the rape.
The community leader added that the victim’s family reported the incident to their village head, but was threatened by the concerned battalion to keep quiet and given compensation of 500,000 kyats (US$500) in return for cooperation.
The New Mon State Party (NMSP), the main ethnic rebel organization in Mon State, sent a complaint letter about the case to the state’s highest government official, Chief Minister Ohn Myint.
Kyi San, an NMSP leader at the liaison office in the state capital Moulmein, said the southeast regional command of the government military had launched an investigation.
“We heard the colonel general staff officer is traveling to begin an investigation today in southern Ye, he said, referring to the township where the girl lives.
The government army and local authorities, including the police, have been accused of 127 cases of sexual abuse over the past 15 years in Kawzar sub-township alone, according to the Human Rights Foundation of Monland (HURFOM).
Only one former military colonel has been punished, the rights group said, citing a colonel who was notorious for crimes against ethnic Mon and Karen women and girls.
These allegations mirror similar reports of rape in many of Burma’s frontier areas, which saw decades of conflict between the government army and ethnic armed groups under the former military regime. Rights activists say women have been routinely raped by government soldiers, and less frequently by rebel soldiers.
Despite political reforms and ceasefires with most major rebel groups, the Mon human rights foundation said the military had failed to change its practices. Although the NMSP has signed a ceasefire and hostilities have largely died down, reports of sexual abuse continue in areas where troops are stationed to secure new development projects in the resource-rich state.
“Sexual abuse of underage children should warrant a major punishment,” said Aue Mon, coordinator of the human rights documentation program for HURFOM. “There should not be impunity for this type of crime, or it will set a precedent that allows more sexual abuse by the military.”
He added, “It will be difficult to build trust between the army and civilians if the military continues to act with impunity. It will be difficult to build trust between the army and ethnic people in the country.”