Hill tribe raped and tortured air crash survivors

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The Independent Online
THE MYSTERY surrounding the crash of a Burmese airliner last month took a bizarre new twist yesterday after it was reported in Thailand that survivors of the crash were tortured and gang-raped to death by Shan hill tribesmen just inside the Burmese border.

At least five of the 39 passengers and crew of a Myanmar Airlines Fokker- 27, which crashed into dense jungle near Tachilek airport, 10km inside in the Burmese border, are believed to have survived the crash - only to be killed by scavengers from a nearby village.

The claims that survivors were murdered came in a report on the crash published by yesterday's edition of the Bangkok Post. A female flight attendant is believed to have died through injuries sustained by being raped at least 14 times, the newspaper said. It said an investigation by Burmese authorities revealed that she was gang-raped over a four-day period. Another woman, a university student, also died from internal injuries sustained through repeated rape. Three surviving male passengers were tortured to death.

The newspaper says the true events after the crash have been disclosed by non- governmental organisations working with hill tribesmen on the Thai Burmese border.

The villagers, believed to be Shan tribesmen, cut off their victims' ears and the fingers to take their gold jewellery, the report said. Most of the victims' bodies were badly decomposed when search parties eventually found the aircraft.

The jet was bound for Tachilek airport when it went missing on 24 August. Shan state, where the plane crashed, is inhabited by hill tribes who are fiercely opposed to the centralising policy of the Burmese military junta. About half the passengers were Burmese military officers and their families. The bodies of the army officers were apparently mutilated as a symbol of revenge against the junta. There has been speculation that the Burmese authorities have tried to cover up the cause of the crash because of the presence of high-ranking military officials.

An air traffic control mix-up meant it was a day before the authorities even knew the plane was missing. The whereabouts of the passengers was not known for another three days.

Burma said yesterday that the reports of torture and rape were "exaggerated", and were designed to cast the country in a bad light.