Junta troops have set fire to more than 150 private oil wells over the past two weeks in Myanmar’s Magway region, residents and members of the armed opposition said Friday, destroying the local economy and leaving villagers with no way to earn a living.
Residents of Magway’s Pauk and Myaing townships told RFA Burmese that since the first week of July, around 100 junta soldiers have been raiding villages with small-scale private oil wells in the area during their search for anti-junta People’s Defense Force (PDF) paramilitaries.
They said that the troops set fire to 37 wells and 102 wells in Myaing’s Kyauk Khwet village on July 8 and July 13, respectively, and another 15 wells in Pauk’s Tha Yet Kan village on July 3.
A resident of Pauk township told RFA Burmese that the troops were intentionally targeting the wells because they believe residents are helping to supply the PDF with income generated from the oil they sell.
“Now they are burning the oil wells, even if you pay them not to do it,” said the resident, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“Most of them demand money [as protection] … but once one group gets paid, another group arrives, and then another group. Sometimes a unit officer demands money and then his soldiers burn the wells after he leaves anyway.”
Another resident of Pauk, who also declined to be named, said villagers who depend on the oil wells for their livelihoods can no longer make ends meet because of the destruction.
“They burned both the oil wells and the oil reservoir tanks. There are hundreds of hand-dug wells in the vicinity and they were all destroyed,” the resident said.
“When the wells were destroyed, the owners as well as the laborers lost their jobs. They are all suffering. They have no idea how to carry on with their lives.”
Residents said the junta troops who raided the villages and burned the oil wells were stationed on Padamya Mountain near the Pauk villages of Son Kone and Na That.
Attempts by RFA to contact junta Deputy Information Minister Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun for comment on the well burnings went unanswered Friday.
But junta state-owned media has reported that the oil wells were destroyed because the owners were providing financial support to PDF forces.
Targeting PDF support
Aung Zey, a leader of the local PDF group Myaing Villages Revolution Front, said junta troops are burning the oil wells in a bid to cut off supplies to the armed resistance forces that control the areas.
“The majority of our people are participating in this revolution in one way or another and are supporting it. So, we believe the burning of these oil wells was done with the intention of ending support for our group,” he said.
Residents estimate there are more than 500 oil wells located in Myaing and Pauk townships combined.
They said military raids on the wells have led to pitched battles between junta troops and the PDF in recent weeks.
Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.