Yangtse is a subsidiary of Wanbao Mining, which jointly operates the controversial Letpadaung mining site in the region with the Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd. (UMEHL), a military conglomerate. Yangtse jointly operates two other nearby copper mines at Sabetaung and Kyisintaung with UMEHL, known as the S&K mines.
Kyaw Nyein and Chit Thein Zaw were found with multiple injuries, suggesting they had suffered severe abuse while held by troops.
“The injuries suggest they were tortured. They had their hands tied behind their backs,” a resident told Myanmar Now on condition of anonymity.
“Kyaw Nyein’s face was misaligned due to the amount of torture he was subjected to. He also had a gunshot wound to his forehead,” he continued. “Chit Thein Zaw had gunshot wounds to the chest and head. It looks like they were shot at close range.
The victims were residents of Ywar Thar village in Salingyi township but were later left in the cemetery of Kan Kone village near the Kyisintaung copper mine.
“Their motorbike was in bad shape so it was making a lot of strange noises and it’s very likely that the military thought they were planting explosive devices,” the local man said, citing statements from surviving abductees who said been released. “Since they were first taken away, their hands were tied behind their backs. They were not killed in front of the other three victims. They were first used as guides in the area, then killed after the others were freed.
The source said he knew Kyaw Nyein personally and had participated in the general strike as part of the civil disobedience movement and therefore refused to go to work in Yangtse.
The bodies of the two men were cremated on Thursday morning.
The military council has released no information about their killing.
A junta column of around 100 troops – believed to be stationed near the Yangtze office in the area since early May – had been raiding villages surrounding the Kyisintaung mine since Tuesday, burning nearly 40 homes in total , according to local sources. More recently, on Thursday morning, the village of War Tan, south of the mining project, was also reportedly burned down.
Myanmar’s military has repeatedly denied responsibility for the arson attacks across the country, instead blaming the anti-junta People’s Defense Forces for the acts.
Residents of War Tan, along with Done Taw, Shwe Pan Khaing, Tein Pin Kan and Thea Taw Gyi, all fled attacks this week but encountered heavy rains that forced them to stay in the area.
Photographs seen by Myanmar Now show residents leaving their villages and transporting their belongings on motorbikes or in ox-drawn carts on muddy roads.
“The Yamar stream is currently in flood, so there are not many routes left for the displaced residents to escape. It is very disturbing,” said the local man who spoke to Myanmar Now.
Some 16 local defense forces active in Yinmabin and Salingyi townships issued a joint statement in April calling on Wanbao and Yangtse companies to suspend operations at Letpadaung and S&K mine sites by May 5, accusing them of supporting the junta.
The companies issued a joint statement on May 4 saying they had been threatened by resistance groups active in the region. They alleged that “rumors” and “baseless accusations” were circulating about their projects and claimed to have halted mining operations after the military coup in February last year.
The US government hit Wanbao and its affiliates with sanctions in July last year for their operations in Myanmar with the military. In March 2021, the United States and the United Kingdom sanctioned the UMEHL for serving as the financial arm of the junta.