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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Radio Free Asia

'No Fewer Than 10' Bodies Discovered in Graves in Myanmar's Kani Township

2021-07-28 -- Five unidentified bodies have been discovered in Myanmar's remote Sagaing region, days after junta troops arrested several people in the area, a scene of heavy fighting for months, and two weeks after villagers found more than a dozen corpses left to rot in a nearby forest.

Residents of Kani township told RFA's Myanmar Service that the body of a man was discovered hanging from a tree in a forest outside of the town center on Tuesday and that a closer investigation revealed four graves containing the remains of what they believe are at least 10 people.

"The bodies were found on Tuesday. A man was also found hanging from a tree with a noose around his neck. The victim was over 60 years old," one resident said, speaking on condition of anonymity, citing fear of reprisal.

"Four bodies were found in one shallow grave. There are still some graves to be dug up, but people are scared to do so, fearing they might trigger landmines. It's difficult."

From the discovery of the five bodies, the source said he believes that "no fewer than 10 people" were killed at the site, citing the three unexplored graves.

The victims have yet to be identified, but sources noted that there had been clashes on Monday in nearby Zee Pin Dwin village between military troops and members of the People's Defense Force (PDF) militia formed to protect villagers following the military's Feb. 1 coup d'état.

Additionally, they said, the military arrested at least 10 men from nearby villages in Kani on July 24 who had been in hiding.

Attempts by RFA to contact junta spokesman Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun about the killings went unanswered Wednesday.

Fighting has raged between junta forces and the PDF in Kani in recent months, and residents recently told RFA that they found the hog-tied and severely beaten bodies of at least 15 people scattered in the jungle surrounding Yin and Kone Thar villages on July 11-12, days after a government military unit left the area.

Photos obtained by RFA of that discovery show several rigid, discolored corpses littered face down on the forest floor, either naked or wearing soiled clothing, stretched tight from swelling during decomposition.

The victims were not members of the PDF, but rather a group of civilians ranging in age from their late teens to mid-60s who were arrested after attempting to flee the arrival of junta troops on July 8, the residents said at the time.

Rights groups have called for the mass killing in Kani to be classified a war crime and litigated accordingly.

Militiamen slaughtered

Also on Wednesday, a PDF source in Sagaing's Monywa township told RFA that junta troops killed more than 30 militia fighters in Kani township, including five Monywa PDF members sent as reinforcements during Monday's clashes in Zee Pin Dwin village.

"The PDFs went there because the villagers were calling for help. As soon as they did, they became trapped in a killing field. The military attacked them everything they had, including heavy weapons. One guy who went to bring back the bodies of his comrades was also shot at," the source said.

"We found out [about the fighting] on Monday night, but we weren't sure of their fate. We thought they could have lost their way in the forest. But [on Tuesday] some villagers said there were about 30 dead bodies."

The five members of the Monywa PDF were identified as Chan Myae Soe, Kaung Htet, Htet Naing Oo, Kyaw Hlwan Htet and Naing Ye Khant.

On Feb. 1, Myanmar's military staged a coup, seizing power from Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD), rejecting its landslide victory in November 2020 general elections as the result of voter fraud. The junta has provided no evidence to back up its claims and citizens from all walks of life have protested the junta.

Amid nationwide turmoil, the military has stepped up offensives in remote parts of the country of 54 million that have led to fierce battles with several PDF militias, including in Kani township, where more than 15,000 people from some 40 villages have been displaced by fighting between the two sides since April 2.

Residents of Kani said that villagers are also forced to flee because military troops regularly steal their valuables, destroy their homes, and arrest and torture them.

A resident told RFA that "hundreds of troops" stormed Zee Pin Dwin village on Wednesday morning, driving villagers into the jungle.

"We wanted to fight back but we were surrounded from three sides. We had to run during the heavy rain. They came from the front, from the main road and from the south. All we could do was flee for safety," said the resident, who declined to be named.

"The other day, they fired four rounds of RPGs (rocket propelled grenades) at people fleeing into the jungle. They will kill us if we are found hiding in the forest, but if you remain at home, you could get killed too."

Reported by RFA's Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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