Burnt vehicles are seen after a regime attack on Dec. 24, 2021 in Hpruso Township, Kayah State. / KNDF
A Japanese-trained Myanmar army general was found to be involved in a massacre of civilians his soldiers committed in Kayah State on Christmas Eve last year, in which 35 civilians including children, women and two members of the international humanitarian group Save the Children were burned alive.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Wednesday that Brigadier General Tin Soe was deployed at the regime’s Eastern Command headquarters, which oversees operations in southern Shan State and Kayah State, from August 2021 to July 2022.
The massacre of at least 35 people happened on Dec. 24, 2021.
Light Infantry Battalion 531, which operates under the Eastern Command, was implicated in the massacre, as was Light Infantry Division (LID) 66. A LID 66 commander told Amnesty International that all ground operations in Kayah State were overseen by the Eastern Command.
The then-Colonel Tin Soe received training at Japan’s Ground Self Defense Force Staff College from August 2016 to March 2017, based on information from the All Japan Defense Association and a Defense Ministry document, HRW said.
Tin Soe served as military attaché at the Myanmar Embassy in Tokyo from 2019 to 2021, according to a source with direct knowledge of the matter, and state media reports. Two sources said Tin Soe left Japan after the February 2021 military coup in Myanmar and was appointed a brigadier general. He was deployed to the Eastern Command headquarters in Shan State’s Taunggyi in August 2021. In July 2022, Tin Soe was relocated to Myanmar’s capital, Naypyitaw, a source said.
Since 2015, the Japanese government has accepted cadets and officers from Myanmar under Article 100 of Japan’s Self-Defense Forces Act, which permits training and educating foreign nationals in Defense Ministry facilities with the defense minister’s approval.
It attracted condemnation, especially from rights groups, after its acceptance of two Myanmar military cadets after the coup in 2021. In 2022, Japan again accepted two cadets and two officers from Myanmar for training.
Making matters worse, some officers who received training in Japan have been found to be involved in the regime’s attack on civilians.
In May, the HRW and Justice for Myanmar, a group of covert activists campaigning for justice and accountability, said air force Lieutenant Colonel Hlwan Moe, who was trained in Japan, flew bombing missions over Magwe Region, an anti-regime stronghold. He is reportedly a deputy commander of Magwe’s air base.
Following Brig-Gen Tin Soe’s case, HRW’s Asian program officer Teppei Kasai said the longer the Japanese government continued to train Myanmar soldiers and officers, the more harm it did to its own international reputation, as well as the lives of Myanmar people.
“As a country that wants to be recognized for promoting human rights, Japan should stand up for the rights of Myanmar’s people and cut defense ties with the junta,” Kasai said.
Since 2021, the rights group has urged the Japanese government to immediately suspend the training program because it risks making Japan complicit in military atrocities.