Myanmar riot fears after two men shot by troops

YANGON — Fears that the deaths of two young men shot in a quarrel with troops could spark unrest prompted Myanmar state media to insist Friday that the incident was “not a fight” between the army and the public.

As authorities try to avoid anti-government feeling ahead of the country’s first elections in two decades, the New Light of Myanmar said the violence that killed Soe Paing Zaw, 19, and Aung Thu Hein, 23, was “just a drunken brawl”.

The paper claimed there was a “plot” to use the incident to provoke riots in the country, adding people wanted to help the state “wipe out such elements provoking mass protests for political gains”.

“The government is now gearing up hand in hand with the people… (to take) action against those elements deceiving the people into taking to the streets with the intention of destroying State stability and peace,” it said.

Soe Paing Zaw and Aung Thu Hein, who were shot dead on Saturday night in Bago, north of Yangon, were hurriedly cremated in the town on Tuesday afternoon amid tight security, according to witnesses.

A memorial service at their homes in the town on Saturday is also expected to be heavily guarded as the junta tries to avoid unrest ahead of the November 7 vote — although there have not been any reported protests so far.

An unnamed Myanmar security officer said authorities would keep tight control over the situation as they “do not want any unrest ahead of the election”.

The pair were killed after a taxi they were travelling in with five others was hit by a motorcycle carrying two army officers, who had been drinking beer nearby.

According to the report, one officer ran away from the fight and came back with four security troops from Bago Railway Station, one of whom fired the fatal shots.

“In reality, it was just a drunken brawl in the street between some young soldiers and some young civilians, not a fight between the Tatmadaw and the public,” the paper said, using the term for Myanmar’s feared military.

“Such cases take place sometimes,” it added.

The report said that a lawsuit had been filed against the servicemen involved and stressed a “fine tradition” of punitive action being taken against offending soldiers.

It did not mention how many people would face the lawsuit, but soldiers who are to be prosecuted are thought likely to be dismissed from the army before facing criminal proceedings.

“Officers concerned called at the houses of the two victims to beg the pardon of their parents,” the paper said.

Myanmar, which has been ruled by the military since 1962, has seen sporadic eruptions of civil unrest over the years, but most have ended in a bloody victory for the junta.

The country has banned civilians from holding any weapons and strictly controls press and other freedoms to maintain an iron grip on power.

Upcoming elections — the first since democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi was denied power after her party’s landslide victory in the 1990 polls — have been criticised as a sham aimed at putting a civilian face on military rule.

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