The US has urged Myanmar to investigate the deaths of two teachers who activists claim were raped and murdered by government troops, as crowds gathered in the country's far north Thursday to express rising anger over the killings.
The battered bodies of the two women, aged 20 and 21, were found Monday in a remote village in Shan state where they were teaching children on behalf of the Kachin Baptist Convention, according to KBC spokesman Lama Yaw.
Images of the women's injured corpses have been widely circulated on social media, stirring outrage in Shan and neighboring Kachin state, which have been wracked by conflict between Myanmar's army and ethnic minority rebels in recent years.
"The victims are dead and can't point out who did it to them. But everyone in Myanmar — not only the Kachin people — knows the truth," said Lama Yaw, referring to KBC claims that soldiers were responsible.
Washington said that Myanmar's quasi-civilian government, which replaced junta rule four years ago, had "informed us that they are looking into the case".
"We call on authorities to investigate this crime and bring the perpetrators to justice in a credible and transparent manner," said State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki in a briefing on Wednesday.
Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) also condemned the killings in a statement on Thursday.
“This tragic rape and murder of two young Christian Kachin teachers is yet another example of the continuing severe violations of human rights in Burma, the prevailing culture of impunity for the military, and the persistent and widespread use of rape and sexual violence by the Burma Army,” said Mervyn Thomas, chief executive of CSW, referring to the Myanmar Army by its former name.
CSW also calls on the Myanmar government "to end the war against the Kachin people and engage in a genuine political dialogue and peace process", he added.
The country has been wracked by sporadic civil wars across its ethnic minority borderlands for more than half a century, leaving a legacy of entrenched mistrust of the army, which has been accused of committing serious abuses with impunity.
The government has put a national ceasefire deal at the heart of reforms, but heavy fighting in Kachin has overshadowed peace talks.
The international community has also raised rising alarm that the country is backsliding in other key areas of its democratic transition.
Lama Yaw said he was traveling with a procession carrying the coffins of the two women to the Kachin state capital Myitkyina, where their parents were waiting to hold funerals.
He said they had been greeted by large crowds on the two-day journey.
"Even in the freezing weather, people were waiting for us," he said.
Fighting between the Myanmar military and Kachin Independence Army (KIA), which reignited in 2011 after the collapse of a 17-year ceasefire, has displaced around 100,000 people.
Last year the military admitted that its troops had shot a freelance journalist known as Par Gyi who was in custody at the time, but said that he was working for an armed group in southern Mon state — a claim his family denies.
Additional rerporting by ucanews.com in Bangkok