At least six houses, including the home of the local chairman of the opposition political party, were set on fire Wednesday after military troops and associated militiamen raided a village in northwestern Myanmar’s Sagaing region, prompting nearly 700 residents from surrounding communities to flee, locals said.
Government soldiers and their affiliated Pyu Saw Htee militia carried out a morning raid of Inngyun village in Sagaing’s Kalay township, burning down the homes, including that of the village chair of the National League for Democracy, they said.
There were no reported casualties or injuries.
“We don’t know exactly how many houses were burned down, but it was not less than five or six,” said a resident of nearby Yayshin village who declined to be named for safety reasons. “Together with Pyu Saw Htee members from Kyaukpyote and Hanthawaddy, the army surrounded the village at about 8 a.m. and set the houses on fire, though there was no fighting.
“As Yatshin is in the same village tract as ours, our whole village also fled from the area,” the resident said. “The entire village of Ingyun has also fled to the woods.”
Nearly 50 houses in three communities have been set on fire in the past two weeks. The people who left their villages have not yet been able to return due to the military’s presence.
About 40 houses in Kalay’s Natchaung and Hakhalay villages were set ablaze on Dec. 23, after clashes broke out between the military and local People’s Defense Forces (PDF) in Natchaung.
Fighting between the two sides intensified in the following days, prompting more than 20,000 people from eight nearby villages, including Natchaung and Parmone Chaung, to leave, locals said.
The hundreds of people from Inngyun and nearby communities who heard about the fires and fled to safety into the woods and mountains now face food shortages and health risks, locals said. A pregnant woman who escaped had to give birth with the help of a midwife, said a woman from Natchaung village.
“Since we cannot go back home yet, our problems might even get worse,” the villager told RFA. “We’d need food and shelter, and as winter is already here, we need clothes and blankets. In the long run, we will face many problems. There’s enough food only for three more days. We might be able to hold on if we can get some kind of assistance and support.”
Local PDF members said at least 22 people were killed during the clashes in Natchaung village on Dec. 23 when the military opened fire from helicopters.
Junta spokesman Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun denied that the military burned houses in the villages.
“We don’t deny that there were fires in some areas,” he said. “They really happened on the ground. But what I mean is these are just allegations. Why would we, the security forces, burn villages? There’s no reason for that.
“Even when there is a fire, it is the government that has to take care of the affected areas,” Zaw Min Tun said. “No PDFs would come and help build a house. The government also has to provide assistance to those who are fleeing their homes. We have nothing to do with the fires.”
The situation remained tense on Wednesday as about 80 military troops advanced on Hakhalay village, a spokesman for the Kalay township PDF told RFA.
“We had to launch this resistance to defend ourselves,” he said. “It is a defensive move. We plan to fight back against the dictator to the end if our people, our villages are attacked.”
In the eight villages in Kalay township, internet lines had been cut off and telephone lines were difficult to access, locals said.
Attacks with heavy weapons
Also on Wednesday, at least 15 houses were set on fire in Le-Ngauk village in Sagaing’s Yinmabin township after junta soldiers entered the area, and villagers fled in a panic, said a resident who declined to be named for safety reasons.
“When they arrived, the villagers fled in fear,” the resident said. “With the villagers gone, the houses reported by dalan [informers] were set on fire. After burning them, the troops advanced towards Yinmabin.”
An army convoy of more than 40 military vehicles and about 200 troops made their way to Yinmabin, locals said, though no fighting was reported there.
Zaw Min Tun also denied that military soldiers were responsible for the blazes in Le-Ngauk village.
In Indaw township in upper Sagaing region, about 800 people from villages in the area fled their homes on Tuesday when a junta helicopter launched an attack on local PDF forces, residents said.
Locals told RFA that junta forces also attacked communities about seven miles from Indaw with heavy weapons.
“Yesterday, the military sent a Mi-35 jet fighter to attack Gair-Hae village eight times and fired heavy weapons from nearby Kyaw Ywa and Nang Naung villages,” a local resident said. “The villagers have been fleeing their homes in fear since 11 a.m. and are staying at monasteries. There must be about 800 people.”
Locals said two houses in Gair-hae village were also destroyed in the aerial attack.
The Indaw PDF said a military vehicle carrying about 50 soldiers was ambushed on Monday between Sipin and Hpapant villages in Indaw township while it was on its way from Mandalay to Myitkyina, though it was unclear if there were any casualties.
— Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.