An International War Crime:
Sunday, September 18, 2011
1998 Christie Island Massacres
An International War Crime:
1998 Christie Island Massacres, Burma/Myanmar
(click to enlarge the map)
It was during a Burmese army-navy and air forces joint operation in May 1998. The place was in the sea boundary area between Burma and Thailand, on the west of Christie Island. A Burmese military battalion arrested 22 Burmese and Thai nationals in a registered fishing boat which was lost near Christie Island. Directly ordered by Senior General Than Shwe, the commanding officer, Lt. Aung Gyi and his troop executed them on the boat. The boat didn’t sink for a few days after it was set fired. The entire massacre was witnessed by a junior intelligence officer, Major Aung Lynn Htut, (now a defector while serving as Charge d’ Affaires in Washington D.C.), among many higher ranking generals in the joint training operation. “It has appeared that Thai Government didn’t even realize that”, said Maj. Htut.
He and a few other military officers were stunned at this event because Sr Gen Than Shwe just directed and killed 59 Burmese nationals two days ago on the same Christie Island. It was in April 1998. A group of villagers were found on the Christie island, a military restriction zone during the military training operation. Everyone in the military men knew that those people were innocent civilians who were collecting wood and bamboos from nearby villages. These villagers knew nothing about the island as restricted zone. The list of victims included an infant, children, women including a pregnant woman, and men. The arrested people were allowed to live freely on the island under detention. Maj. Htut and a few other officers provided cookies to the children while this group was detained on the island. He and many of the officers expected that they would be released. This list of arrested victims was reported to the Sr Gen at the military headquarters in Rangoon. After one month, a wire with an order came from Sr Gen Than Shwe to kill all of them. All 59 people were lined up on a beach in the north of Christie island (see map), and commander Zaw Min and his troop shot them down. “I was alarmed to see the pleasure of the massacre expressed by the commander, Colonel Zaw Min (Base Operation Commander in Kaw Thaung, then in 1988) after executing 59 people.” The execution was conducted by the following:
Col Zaw Min, now the Minister for No.1 Electric Power Department and Joint Gen. Secretary of Union Solidarity and Development Association (UDSA);
Lt. Col. Soe Tint, now director of No. 1 Ministry of Industry (Infantry Battalion Commander in Kaw Thaung, then in 1988);
Lt. Col Win Swe, now Tactical Operation Commander (No 405 0r 406 Infantry Battalion Commander in Boat Pyin);
Lt. Commander Aung Gyi (Navy Vessel No 403, 404 or 405 Commander)
The order from Sr. Gen Than Shwe was precise: kill all arrested and leave no evidence behind. “When we got back to Rangoon, I, as an intelligence officer, reported the massacre in Christie Island to former general Khin Nyunt with photo evidences. In fact, after the massacre, Maj. Myint Oo, another intelligence officer from Myeik, managed to photograph the dead bodies, secretly”, said Maj. Htut.
Obviously, Sr. Gen Than Shwe is trying to get away from these kinds of crime by keeping off himself of the official government, now. He still thinks he can get away from the war crimes. He also has seeded his hit-men in the present military controlled new Burmese government. Zaw Min is a good example of Than Shwe’s hit-man who is barking for China’s beloved Sr. Gen Than Shwe’s direction. Zaw Min, as the minister of Energy-1 Department, recently spoke on the controversial Mitson Dam that the government will not back down on its pursuit although opposed this project by the Noble laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, minorities living in and around the project site, and the human rights and environmental organizations. In fact, Zaw Min must have been forgotten that he is only one of the war criminals. Having many war criminals within both Burmese parliaments and the government is one of the reasons why Burmese nationals have considered the current Burmese government an ill-legitimate. Burmese military has declared that they are cleansing corruptions among military officials now. For the national unity, the military should weed out military and ex-military personnel with war crime records in every level of current Burmese government. In fact, Burmese people have realized that there are many gentlemen officers in the military too.
In these Christie Island incidents, Than Shwe, Zaw Min and Aung Gyi killed Burmese as well as Thais. Apparently, there were a few military officers evident the incidents. (See
When asking Maj. Htut if he is willing to be a witness at the International War Crime Tribunal, he said ‘I am more than happy to because it will be my best way to pay back for the 81 innocent civilians killed at Christie Island. I couldn’t protest the killing as I was the most junior officer among them. But having witnessed these massacres turned me off as a Burmese military officer since then. I believe many of the military officers who were still haunted by this incidence will also take the witness stand too.”
There may not have many hard evidences of massacres which had occurred in Arakan, Chin, Kachin, Karen, Kareni, Mon provinces and mainland Burma in the past, but now we have evidences on Christie Island massacres, if the UN is still looking for one.
(Special thanks to Maj. Aung Lynn Htut, a defector and former senior intelligence officer and Charge’d Affaires (CDA) of Burmese Embassy to the United States in Washington D.C.)
Dr. U Win, SDSU-Viz Center (September 15, 2011)