Troops in Myanmar’s embattled Sagaing region razed more than 400 homes in two villages they accuse of providing a haven for anti-junta forces, forcing an estimated 10,000 civilians to flee, residents said Wednesday.
The attack occurred on the evening of Jan. 31, when around 100 soldiers from Myaing township in neighboring Magwe region entered Mwe Tone and Pan villages in Sagaing’s Pale township and began setting structures ablaze, sources told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
“Soldiers showed up out of the blue that night,” said one resident of Mwe Tone village who lost his house. “They acted like they would move on, but then they started burning homes.
“The whole village is gone. Only one or two homes are left. Then, they went on to the west and burned down homes in Pan village.”
The resident, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to fear of reprisal, said troops destroyed some 220 of 265 homes in Mwe Tone and nearly one-fourth of the 800 homes in Pan.
“I have been unable to return to the village,” he said. “I am staying at a monastery. They destroyed our homes even though we didn’t attack them.”
According to the resident, people fled when the soldiers entered the village, but were unable to take their belongings and lost their cattle in the blaze.
Details of the attack in Pan village, around two miles away, were not immediately available.
Prior to the fires, fighters with a local branch of the anti-junta People’s Defense Force (PDF) militia had attacked an outpost in Inn Ma Htee village, where troops were reportedly conducting a training exercise for the pro-military Pyusawhtee militia group.
Villagers told RFA that the burning of the two villages was a form of payback for casualties the military suffered in the Inn Ma Htee village attack.
A resident of Pan village whose home was destroyed in the arson said he was barely able to recognize where he lived when he returned to the area.
“The whole village has turned into a pile of ashes,” said the villager, who also declined to be named. “My 70-year-old father said he had never seen anything that bad in his entire life. Burning down our homes will not destroy our confidence. Now we have become more resentful.”
Residents of Mwe Tone and Pan said nearly 10,000 people from the two villages and surrounding area fled their homes during the attack and are taking shelter at monasteries, in nearby villages and in makeshift jungle camps.
“The military is burning down villages they think are strongholds of local PDF forces,” the villager from Pan said.
“Villagers from Mwe Tone can’t go home now. Their village is a wasteland. The civilians are the ones bearing the brunt of the attacks.”
Attempts by RFA to contact junta spokesman Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun to respond to allegations that troops burned homes in the two villages went unanswered Wednesday.
Pe Ee, a fighter with the PDF in Pale township, urged civilians to flee at the first sign of the military.
“The junta has launched offensives against us using excessive force. The local PDF forces try to fight back, but it’s very lopsided,” he said. “Still, the military hasn’t gained control of the region yet. The PDF has held the line.
According to Data for Myanmar, a research group focusing on the impact of armed conflict, arson has destroyed buildings in 90 villages throughout nine states and regions where the military is fighting against anti-junta forces since the military seized power in a Feb. 1, 2021, coup.
— Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.