Myanmar / Burma

Myanmar troops kill 8 villagers during deadly week in Sagaing state

Myanmar’s military killed at least five elderly people, a mother, and her two young sons on Tuesday after shelling a village in Sagaing region’s embattled Yinmabin township, sources said, marking a 10th day of troop raids in the area that have caused nearly two dozen civilian deaths.

The morning attack by around 200 troops on Yinmabin’s Letpandaw village follows one of the deadliest months on record for residents of Sagaing region since the military seized power in a Feb. 1, 2021, coup and began a nationwide crackdown, killing hundreds of civilians and jailing thousands more, according to the Bangkok-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.

Sources told RFA’s Myanmar Service that elderly residents of Letpandaw and nearby Kanthar village had been taking shelter in a monastery between the two settlements following several military raids in the surrounding area when the shells hit on Tuesday.

“[The troops] entered our village using an unexpected route through the betel leaf plantations that surround it,” said a woman from Letpandaw, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“Those who could flee the village escaped, but those in the monastery couldn’t run away. There were many elderly people there. Then the artillery shells hit the monastery, killing a 93-year-old grandmother, a 30-year-old mother, and her two sons. The rest were people over the age of 70.”

The mother of the two boys — aged 7 and 9 — was identified as Moe Moe Win. Her mother, Thein Hla, who was in her 70s, was also killed in the shelling. The other victims were identified as Letpandaw’s Daw Tin Nyunt, 93, U Than Maung, who was in his 70s; U Thein Maung, 70; and U Ohn Hlaing, 70. All of the victims lived in Kanthar village.

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Residents told RFA that another five elderly villagers who had taken shelter at the monastery are receiving emergency medical treatment for gunshot wounds.

They said that following the attack on Letpandaw the military set up hidden positions in the surrounding betel plantations, established a base of operations in the monastery, and conducted a raid on Kanthar village in the afternoon. Troops also fired shells at nearby Shan and Theegone villages and are preparing to launch attacks on additional settlements in Yinmabin and neighboring Kanni township, they added.

Ko Khant, the spokesman for the local branch of the anti-junta People’s Defense Force (PDF) paramilitary group in Sagaing’s North Yamar township, told RFA that clashes broke out between his fighters and the military near Letpandaw on Tuesday morning as troops advanced toward the village.

“A small battle erupted between us and them and other local defense forces,” he said. “Currently, the enemy has set up camp near Letpandaw.”

Ko Khant said that around 10,000 people from surrounding villages had fled the area.

Residents of nearby Aung Chanthar village told RFA that junta forces had also set fire to makeshift tents erected by refugees on the outskirts of Letpandaw as they marched forward.

An aerial view shows Yinmabin township's Letpandaw village prior to the military attack. Credit: Citizen journalist

10 days of fighting

At least 21 people have been killed in Yinmabin since Feb. 26, when the military began raiding several villages in the area, aided by airstrikes. In addition to the eight killed Tuesday, the dead include nine from Chinpon village, two from Thabyay Aye village, and two from Mogaung village, sources told RFA.

The army first used helicopters to conduct airstrikes on Chinpon village on Feb. 26 before dropping soldiers who raided the settlement over the course of the following two days, they said.

A resident of Chinpon told RFA that bodies of nine civilians were discovered in the village on Feb. 28, after troops left and launched a combined ground and air attack on Thabyay Aye village, about six miles away.

“I buried the bodies that very day. The dead included eight men and one woman,” said the resident, who also declined to be named.

“We are facing so many difficulties. We do not dare to go back to the village and are hiding in the woods. The sun is hot, and another junta offensive is on the way. Nearby Thabyay Aye village has been reduced to ashes. The whole population of the region is fleeing their homes now.”

Junta Deputy Information Minister Zaw Min Tun told RFA that the military had raided Chinpon to clear out PDF fighters who were training there.

“They are training terrorist groups called PDFs,” he said. “Security forces entered the village to provide security. There will be casualties during such incursions, and we also suffered some injuries.”

Residents of Thabyay Aye told RFA that troops shot and killed a 40-year-old man as he fled and set a fire that killed a 70-year-old woman as they raided the village on Feb. 28.

One source said that villagers who fled the attack are sheltering in the jungle with few supplies or medicine, and that several people have become sick from drinking unclean water.

On March 2, troops raided Kany township’s Mogaung village — located around 2 miles from Thabyay Aye — and set fire to several homes before leaving the following day, locals said.

After returning to the village, residents said they discovered two handcuffed and badly burned bodies, but the victims have yet to be identified.

Two vehicles destroyed by fire in Yinmarbin township's Chinpon village in a Feb. 28, 2022 attack by junta forces. Credit: Citizen journalist
Two vehicles destroyed by fire in Yinmarbin township's Chinpon village in a Feb. 28, 2022 attack by junta forces. Credit: Citizen journalist

Deadly month in Sagaing

Sagaing has put up some of the strongest resistance to junta rule since the coup more than a year ago and the military has responded with a brutal offensive in recent weeks.

According to an investigation by RFA, the military killed at least 47 civilians accused of supporting anti-junta paramilitary groups in seven Sagaing townships during the month of February alone. Residents said that most victims had been tortured before being shot in the head and set on fire, and that several women victims had been raped.

RFA documented nearly 50 clashes between junta troops and the PDF last month in Sagaing’s 35 townships.

Boh Naga, the leader of the PDF in Pale township, where some of the fiercest fighting has occurred, told RFA that the exact death toll in his area during February is unclear because “the soldiers who entered the villages were mostly drunk and tortured and killed whoever they saw.”

“When soldiers enter a village, they never leave without torturing someone or destroying something,” he said, adding that only those who are pro-junta are left unharmed. “The death toll is hard to imagine, and it is very difficult to keep records.”

A resident of Sagaing’s Taze township, who did not want to be named, said soldiers who raid villages regularly shoot civilians and steal valuables before setting homes on fire.

“They take whatever they fancy and then take the loot to their nearest camp,” he said. “After that, they torture people and burn down their houses. That was what happened in our village. If someone dies because of torture, [the soldiers] give an excuse, saying the person had been supporting Boh Nagar.”

Attempts by RFA to reach spokesman Zaw Min Tun for a response to the claims went unanswered.

According to Data For Myanmar, a research group that documents the effects of conflict on communities, a total of 3,126 houses were destroyed by arson in Sagaing in the 13 months following the military coup. The group reported that 1,739 of them were destroyed in February alone.

Aung Myo Min, human rights minister for the shadow National Unity Government, told RFA that troops in Sagaing act as if they have been “issued a license to rape and kill civilians.”

“They might be thinking that by committing these atrocities, people become scared of them, and the front line will be broken,” he said.

“Instead, the people’s resentment has soared, and their hatred of the junta has only grown stronger.”

According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, the military has arrested more than 9,500 civilians since last year’s coup and killed 1,623.

— Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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