Pro-junta forces torch hundreds of more homes in Myanmar's volatile Sagaing region
2022.02.25 -- Military troops and pro-junta militia fighters shot at least three civilians and burned down more than 500 homes in an early morning raid on a village in Myanmar's embattled Sagaing region Friday, forcing thousands to flee in what sources said was an act of revenge.
The arson attack in Hna Ma Sar Yit village was the third by a combined force of troops and members of the pro-junta Pyu Saw Htee militia in Shwebo township in two days, residents of the area told RFA's Myanmar Service. Attacks on Thursday destroyed hundreds of structures in two nearby villages.
A resident who spoke on condition of anonymity, citing fear of reprisal, said that around 70 soldiers and Pyu Saw Htee fighters entered Hna Ma Sar Yit at around 4 a.m. from nearby Payan village.
"They just fired at us with heavy weapons and when we ran away, they started burning houses â€” one after another," he said.
According to the villager, there had been no fighting between the military and prodemocracy People's Defense Force (PDF) paramilitaries in the past few days, but a PDF unit had attacked a military column recently.
More than 3,000 people from Hna Ma Sar Yit and nearby settlements were forced to flee the area, he said, adding that at least three people were injured by gunfire as the attackers fired indiscriminately into the village. The military is stationed in Thee Lone village, about one mile from the site of the burnings, he said.
A woman who also declined to be named for security reasons told RFA that she fled with only the clothes on her back and later learned she had lost her home and all her belongings.
"We are having a lot of difficulties. We have no place to live. I couldn't save anything. I have nothing now but a [sarong] and a blanket. Even our rice stock has been burned," she said.
"All these innocent people â€” including infants, children and the elderly â€” are suffering. Why can't they just fight the people who attacked them?"
The woman said several people unable to flee had been left behind at the village and it was unknown what had become of them.
Friday's arson followed two similar incidents in Shwebo a day earlier, when junta troops set more than 200 homes alight in Nga Pi Oh and Gway Bin Kone villages, according to a member of the PDF in nearby Taze township.
The PDF fighter said those villages were targeted for allegedly supporting his paramilitary group, adding that the military is now attacking civilian areas and burning down homes in Sagaing "on nearly a daily basis."
"The people are the real victims now. They are making the weak suffer because they [are unwilling to] fight us," he said.
"They are doing inhuman things, waging war on the villages. They kill people when they cannot get the information they want. They loot and set fire to homes built with the people's sweat and tears. People in this region are suffering a lot."
In another recent incident, a 43-year-old man named Soe Moe was arrested and killed when troops entered Taze's Kangalay Kone village on Feb. 21, the PDF fighter said.
Troops are stationed in Taze's Ledi village and about 6,000 people from 10 area settlements have fled to safety, he added.
According to a statement issued on Wednesday by Data for Myanmar, a group that monitors the impact of armed conflict in the country, the military has torched at least 5,231 homes nationwide since seizing power in a Feb. 1, 2021, coup â€” up from 4,571 a week earlier. The group said Sagaing region, where resistance to military rule has been particularly strong in the past year, topped the list with 3,126 razed homes.
Last week, junta troops and Pyu Saw Htee fighters burned hundreds of homes in Sagaing's Pale township, about 60 miles southwest of Hna Ma Sar Yit village, following a Feb. 14 PDF attack on their joint training camp, sources told RFA.
Internet service has been shut down for nearly six months in Pale, but sources in the area say that pro-junta forces have burned at least 1,000 homes in the township's Hlaw Gar, Inn Ma Htee, Pan, and Mwe Tone villages, sending thousands of refugees scrambling for shelter in nearby forests.
Junta Deputy Information Minister Zaw Min Tun told RFA that the reports from Data for Myanmar and other sources were "mere allegations."
"We always hear the military has burned houses whenever there is a battle," he said, suggesting that the arson was instead carried out by members of the PDF, which the junta has designated a terrorist group.
"We have no reason to do these kinds of things and get ourselves into more trouble. The people have formed militias to protect themselves from the PDF and these are the villages under attack."
The junta has dismissed reports of the Pyu Saw Htee's existence, although it acknowledges that the military is "forming native militia groups" in response to "internal insurgency movements" in play since Myanmar gained its independence from Britain in 1948.
Acts of terror
But Myo Zaw Aung, a former lawmaker for the deposed National League for Democracy in Sagaing's Kawlin township, told RFA that the military burns down villages, in addition to committing other crimes against humanity such as sexual assault and murder, to terrorize those who resist its rule.
"The military often attacks innocent people when it loses a battle. They often fire heavy weapons at random before entering villages," he said.
"Sagaing region has a strong presence of PDF units, and the people are strong. So, the junta sets fire to villages and rapes women when it wants to discourage the people from supporting the PDFs and stop their advance."
Myo Zaw Aung said that regardless of the atrocities the military commits, it will not be able to crush the people's resistance.
Reported by RFA's Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.
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