“All the hallmarks a war crime.”
Sky News investigated the case of a mass murder in Myanmar by UN human rights monitor.
At least 37 people were killed in the massacre that took place near Mo So, eastern Kayah, on Christmas Eve.
This area has seen heavy fighting between the military and local militia.
According to the military regime, those who have died are suspected terrorists.
Two Save the Children workers are among the dead.
Doctors say that at least one victim is a child between 10 and 15, and at least one disabled man.
Many of the victims were badly burned by the attack, making it difficult to verify the extent of the violence.
Tom Andrews, UN special rapporteur for Myanmar’s human rights situation, stated that he had seen the Sky News report and found it to be just as horrifying. Unfortunately, this is not unusual.
“This is the type of cruelty that we have witnessed in different parts of Myanmar. This is what the Myanmar military is known for.
“They are brutal…we must fully investigate it. These have all the hallmarks a war crime.
Myanmar has been torn apart since the February 2021 coup.
One side is the military or junta that claimed electoral fraud and overthrew government to take power.
On the other: Protesters, armed groups, and militias that claim they are fighting for democracy.
Sky News teams from London, Thailand, and Myanmar have analysed images to find out more about the violence and traced family members and witnesses.
Myanmar Witness is an NGO that documents human rights in Myanmar. We also collaborated with them.
WARNING : This article contains images of violence and bodies
Police have confirmed that a 28-year old man named Li Reh was among the victims.
His siblings described him as a hardworking family man. Li Reh’s left hand was not fully developed at birth, so it was easy for them to identify him as “a hardworking family guy.”
They told us that he left his home around 8am on 24 December.
He was with a friend who was buying a car.
The junta confirmed at 10 o’clock that soldiers had stopped people from a road near Mo So.
It is the road Li Reh is believed to have traveled on.
It is claimed that four members of the Border Guard Force (BGF), a local junta-allied Border Guard Force, were also sent to the checkpoint at the same time to investigate.
It is hard to understand what happened at the Mo So checkpoint over the next few hours.
The attack left no survivors.
Local militia said that they received word from the junta force that they were present in the area. They arrived at the scene of the murders at 11.15am and found vehicles on fire.
Experts at Myanmar Witness analysed footage from militia drones and found that shadows were captured shortly after the incident at 11.30am.
The footage shows a Save the Children car burning, while other trucks are only smoking. This suggests that the fires may have started quite recently.
Rebel fighters on the spot claim that they found the bodies of four border guards the next day.
Footage shows that their hands were tied with rope, and that they had been shot.
The rebel units discovered 31 bodies badly burned after Christmas Day, but that was only when the fires had been put out.
Police also reported that three bags containing body parts were later found on the spot.
Our teams found a doctor to assist with the post-mortem examinations.
He described the injuries that were inflicted upon the victims while hiding.
We have changed his name to protect him.
Dr. A said, “The skulls had been completely smashed. Perhaps they were shot with a gun, or beat with something. A sharp object was used to stab the victim in the back and chest.
“There were bullet holes in the bodies, and most of them were tied up.
“I have never seen anything similar in my entire life.” [People] were tied up and then killed.”
Li Reh’s family was in fear by Christmas Day.
He was not able to be located and his motorbike was taken from the wreckage.
His relatives called him and said that a strange voice answered. They believed it was a junta soldier.
Myanmar’s military regime released statements after the deaths stating that soldiers near Mo So attempted to stop seven vehicles believed to be connected to an alleged terror plot on Christmas Eve.
Security forces responded by firing back at the attackers with guns and bombs.
The battle ensued and the vehicles caught on fire.
According to the military, it was trying to save people.
Sky News however, raises new questions.
Dr. A stated that many victims had their hands tied, and that some bodies were found outside of vehicles. This contradicts the notion that the victims died while driving away.
The regime claimed that the victims were terrorists. So how can two charity workers and at most one child die?
Thirteen days later, rebel fighters claim that they found two bodies covered in local militia uniforms, located near the burnt vehicles, on 6 January 2022.
These uniforms were identical to photos previously released by military-run media about two “enemies” who are allegedly involved in Mo So’s attack.
Because they are part of the evidence that provides a picture of what happened on that particular day, we have decided to include images of dead bodies in this article.
We will also explain the importance of certain details in the images.
Further investigation of the bodies revealed suspicions.
Sky News received photos from the post-mortems that showed that the men were wearing civilian clothes underneath the uniforms.
Both were shot.
Officers assured us that there weren’t any bullet holes in the uniforms of the men.
The “enemies” state media photos show the gun’s position as posed.
Our team corrected the contrast in the photo of one “enemies” to reveal blurring.
It was revealed that one of the alleged soldiers had lost his left hand.
It was Li Reh who had disappeared on the 24th of December.
We showed the photo of him to his sister and brother, who both insisted that he was not a rebel.
His sister stated, “He is not affiliated with any organization at all.”
His brother claimed that he was unable to hold a firearm. His family claims that Li Reh was framed by junta soldiers and made to look rebel fighter.
“They [the military] used Li Reh’s body to pretend that he was from the KNPP [a rebel group]. They wanted to clear up the evidence. His brother explained that they had put on the uniform to Li Reh because they wanted to clean up the evidence.
We presented this evidence to the military government, but it has not responded.
Sky News’ Mr Andrews said that “it appears as though they tried to make these innocent persons, these humanitarian workers seem as if it were combatants.”
“There is clearly something going on in the heads of these commanders. This is a war crime. This is proof of war crime.
He said, “I am afraid that things will get exponentially worse unless there’s a change in course, including one from the way the international community responds.”
It is still unclear what the full extent of Mo So’s events were.
Police have reported 40 missing persons so far.
It is possible that the perpetrators of Myanmar’s massacre on Christmas Eve will never be found guilty.
Siobhan Robbins, South East Asia Correspondent
Sanya Burgess, Data and Forensics Unit
Victoria Elms, Data and Forensics Unit
Thanks to Myanmar Witness, an NGO that documents human rights violations in Myanmar.
Rachel Thompson, South East Asia Producer
Cape Diamond, Myanmar Producer
Aung Khant, Myanmar Producer
Brian Gillingham, Senior Designer
Kalli Ewin-Manolaros, Designer
Phoebe Rowe, Junior Designer
Isla Glaister, Data and Forensics Unit
Sky News’ Data and Forensics unit is multi-skilled and dedicated to transparent journalism. To tell data-driven stories, we gather, analyse, and visualise data. Our traditional reporting skills are combined with advanced analysis of satellite imagery, social media, and other open-source information. Multimedia storytelling allows us to tell the story of our journalism and help people understand it.