One Woman, Three Girls Found Dead From Apparent Drowning at Historical Excavation Site

Monday, June 22, 2020

One woman and three girls were found dead at an excavation site in Mon State’s Thanbyuzayat Township last week, believed to have drowned in a pond on-site.

The deceased woman was 66 years old, and two of the girls were 12 years old and one 11. The woman helped at the Dhamma Garuna monastery in Welka-wah village tract, and the girls had been studying Mon literature at the monastery. They are believed to have died on the evening of June 17.

The area, known locally as “Japan hill” and formally as Mueng Balar hill, was a base for Japanese soldiers during World War II, and was being excavated by a company—Royal Eagle Myanmar Development Group Co. Ltd.—searching for Japanese military equipment and artifacts.

The digging has created ditches filled with water, and locals have criticized the initiative as lacking transparency and creating dangers for villagers in the area.

“This project is really complicated. I don’t know what they are searching for. I don’t know whether they are searching for treasure or antiques or the Japanese army’s military equipment,” Thanbyuzayat town resident Tun Myint Kyaw told NMG. “There is no transparency in this excavation project,” he added.

According to locals, villagers found the woman and girls’ bodies at extraction site, which looks like a water pond, in the evening.

Local police in Thanbyuzayat said they would investigate whether the cause of death was drowning.

Royal Eagle Myanmar Development Group Co. Ltd., applied to search for valuables, military remains, and antiques at Japan hill, and received permission to carry out their excavation between early 2018 and late 2019.

Min Kyaw Lwin, Mon State’s construction and municipal minister, said that the state government withdrew the excavation license and instructed the company to refill the ditches with soil and plant trees in the area to prevent erosion.

Despite the instructions from the government, the company reportedly left the area exposed, and with water-filled ditches.

“They made a very deep holes. They also dug a trench there. The extraction site was filled with water when rain fell. It looked like a water pond. A landslide could happen there,” Tun Myint Kyaw told NMG.

Dr. Aye Zan, the chief minister of Mon State, is chair of the committee to search for and preserve Japanese military equipment in the state.
It is a local belief that Japanese soldiers left gold, silver, and other valuables at Japan hill when they retreated from Burma during World War II. It is unknown if this is true, or where exactly such items would be located in the area.