Myanmar junta forces and members of an affiliated militia group torched most of the homes in a village in the central Magway region, another display of the regime’s reliance on arson in its fight to hold onto power 18 months after removing the democratically elected government in a coup.
Area residents on Thursday reported the arson to RFA Burmese, a day after Noeleen Heyzer, the U.N.’s special envoy for Myanmnar, called for an immediate end to violence in the Southeast Asian country and asked to see ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi in a meeting with the junta leaders.
Soldiers along with members of the Pyu Saw Htee militias supporting the regime began setting fire to more than 400 of the 500 houses in Ngatayaw village in Magway’s Yesagyo township on Wednesday morning, forcing more than 4,000 residents to flee, locals told RFA.
Some of the remaining houses were set ablaze on Thursday morning, said an Ngatayaw village resident who did not want to be named for safety reasons.
“The fires went out last night because it rained heavily at about 10 p.m.,” he said. “They started the fires again today at 8 a.m. until now. We can see the smoke billowing all the way up from here.”
Villagers watched from a distance as their town burned while soldiers randomly fired their weapons, he said.
Other residents said they fled to safety when Myanmar troops entered the community on Wednesday, adding that soldiers previously had raided their village four times, including on Aug. 10 when they set fire to 14 motorcycles.
“This is the fifth time we’ve had to run,” said one woman. “There is so much trouble that it’s terrible. They set fire to several houses the last time they came here. Now, the whole village is almost gone. I had to run with some stuff and the cows. I only have the clothes on my back.”
‘House has gone to ashes’
Elderly, sick and disabled residents who could not run away remained in Ngatayaw on Wednesday amid the wreckage, villagers said.
Up to 200 or 300 baskets of rice that had been stored in some of the burned homes are now gone, they added.
Another woman from the village said she was lucky to get a lift out of the community on a motorcycle when soldiers began raiding homes.
“In the past, we had gotten through very, very hard times, but now our whole house has gone to ashes,” she said. “I’m 63 years old now, and I have never seen anything like this.”
The military has not yet issued any information about the burning of Ngatayaw village. Junta spokesman Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun previously told RFA that army columns did not enter villages or commit arson. He blamed the arson on the anti-junta People’s Defense Forces.
A member of the Yesagyo township’s People’s Defense Forces, a militia group fighting the regime, told RFA that an army column entered the Ngatayaw after a 15-minute clash with the local defense groups near the village around 9 a.m. Wednesday.
“There was a small clash between them and some local groups yesterday just before they entered the village,” he said. “There were Pyu Saw Htee members from their area along with them. They have been deployed in Minywa village for the past 12 days, and later about half of them launched the attack.”
The 150-member army column has been in the Yay Lei Kyun area, comprising more than 40 villages, since July 26, locals said.
At least 5,000 local residents have been forced to flee their homes because military troops have been active in several villages in the area, including Ngatayaw, Hlay Khoke, Minywa, Pauktaw, Nan U, Nay Yin, since last week, they said.
Junta soldiers burned the village of Hlay Khoke three times in the past few days, destroying more than 200 of the community’s 400 houses, they said.
The army has torched thousands of civilian homes in Magway and Sagaing region in northwestern Myanmar, where it has faced fierce opposition from local PDFs.
Translated by Khin Maung Nyane for RFA Burmese. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.