A joint force of junta troops and pro-military Pyu Saw Htee militiamen carried out a raid on a village in Myanmar’s Sagaing region Thursday, killing seven civilians and setting nearly half of the tract’s homes on fire, according to sources from the area.
A resident of Wetlet township’s Ywar Nan village told RFA’s Myanmar Service that six of the victims were young adults, while the seventh was a 70-year-old woman.
“The death toll is seven and 325 houses were burnt down,” said the resident, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal.
“[The perpetrators] are stationed in [nearby] Sadaung village. There were so many of them. They suffered many casualties during a clash [with anti-junta fighters] at Nyaung Ngote-toe village, so they attacked our village in revenge and set the houses on fire.”
The resident said that only the identity of the 70-year-old victim could be confirmed because the other victims were badly burned or mutilated, although RFA was unable to independently confirm the information.
A village of about 700 houses, Ywar Nan is home to more than 3,000 people. Nearly all the inhabitants fled to the nearby jungle during the attack, sources said.
Another resident told RFA that the fires were started at around 6 a.m. at a house near a lake on the southern side of Ywar Nan.
“Even the monastery was burned,” he said. “The northern part is sparsely populated, and the houses are scattered here and there. People live mostly on the south side. Everything on the inhabited side is gone.”
Residents said that the fire killed all the village’s chickens, pigs, goats and cattle, although the exact number was unclear.
Photos provided to RFA of the aftermath of the attack appeared to show charred buildings, an elderly woman whose body had been badly burned, a young man whose throat was cut, and slaughtered livestock.
A member of the anti-junta People’s Defense Force (PDF) paramilitary group in Wetlet township confirmed to RFA that a day prior to the raid on Ywar Nan village his group had carried out an attack on junta troops and Pyu Saw Htee fighters stationed in nearby Nyaung Ngote Toe village.
“Many of them were wounded in the battle at Nyaung Ngote Toe, and so they went to Ywar Nan, chased the villagers out and set the village on fire,” he said.
“They must have been furious because they suffered many casualties. They must have thought that residents of Ywar Nan did it, so they set it on fire. They shelled the village at about 1 a.m., before raiding it.”
The PDF fighter said that the joint junta force also set fire to 15 houses in Nyaung Ngote Toe.
No acknowledgement of crimes
Myanmar’s military seized power in a Feb. 1, 2021, coup. Security forces have killed at least 1,700 civilians since then, mostly during peaceful anti-junta protests, according to Thailand-based rights group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.
Meanwhile, the military has launched a series of scorched earth offensives against ethnic armed groups and PDF groups in the country’s remote border regions, where reports regularly emerge of acts of arson, looting, torture, rape and murder by junta troops.
The junta initially responded to reports of civilian deaths during raids by saying that villages were targeted because they had offered haven to fighters with the PDF, which it has labeled a terrorist organization. As evidence of largescale killing and destruction mounts, however, it has shifted blame to the PDF itself.
Junta Deputy Information Minister Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun told RFA on Thursday that the military was not involved in the arson attack on Ywar Nan village.
“There was no arson attack by the [military]. There is no reason to burn [the village] down. The culprits are the PDFs. They entered villages where local militias were formed by the people, attacked them, and set the area on fire when they left,” he said.
“But whether the fires were started by the military or the PDFs, the government is responsible for rebuilding the villages. It is the government that avoids fighting. We must help those who are in trouble.”
Zaw Min Tun did not provide evidence of the PDF’s responsibility for the attack or details about how the military plans to rebuild Ywar Nan and other villages that have been torched during raids.
Kay Jay, a political activist in Wetlet township, told RFA that the military has never acknowledged any of the crimes committed by its troops.
“They have never admitted that any village was set on fire. The junta has never admitted that people were intentionally shot or set on fire,” he said. “The people have no faith in any of the junta’s statements.”
According to Data for Myanmar, an independent research group, nearly 8,000 homes have been destroyed by the military and its supporters since the coup, some 5,000 of which were in Sagaing region.
Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English Joshua Lipes.