Funerals for two Kachin women found dead in Myanmar

Myanmar soldiers march in formation during the 67th Myanmar Independence Day Grand Military Review parade in Naypyidaw on January 4, 2015. Image copyright AFP
Image caption Conflicts between Myanmar's army and ethnic minority rebels have rumbled in Shan and Kachin states

Several thousand people have gathered in northern Myanmar for the funerals of two teachers who activists allege were raped and killed by soldiers.

The bodies of the women, who are from the Kachin ethnic minority, were found on Tuesday in a remote village in Shan state.

Villagers as well as local and international NGOs allege Burmese soldiers were responsible.

Officials have launched an investigation into the killings.

"Local police and state government are investigating. People are saying it was committed by the Tatmadaw (army), but they need evidence - they can't just accuse," a spokesman from the office of the president, Zaw Htay, told AFP news agency.

If soldiers were found to have committed the crime "we won't be tolerant, we will take serious action," he added.

The bodies of the two women, aged 20 and 21, were found badly beaten in their shared home.

They were in the village to teach children on behalf of the Kachin Baptist Convention (KBC), the group's spokesperson Lama Yaw told AFP news agency.

Villagers said they had been raped and boot prints were found outside their residence. Activist groups and local media say Burmese troops were stationed near the village at the time.

The US has called for the government to investigate.

KCB transported the bodies of the two women to the Kachin capital of Myitkyina, where their parents live, for funerals taking place on Friday.

The crowds were all wearing white ribbons and many were holding pictures of the two murdered teachers and signs calling for an end to violence against women, correspondents say.

Conflicts have rumbled between Myanmar's army and ethnic minority rebels in Shan and Kachin states in recent years.

Human rights group have documented atrocities committed by the Burmese military, in particular towards women from ethnic minorities.

The BBC's Jonah Fisher in Yangon says until a few months ago there was optimism that a nationwide ceasefire was about to be signed. With the number of clashes increasing in both Shan and Kachin state that now appears almost impossible.

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