Junta troops killed at least 10 people and set fire to around 500 homes during a raid on a predominantly Muslim village in Myanmar’s embattled Sagaing region, residents and members of the armed opposition said Wednesday.
Sources from Kyi Su village, in Sagaing’s Kanbalu township, told RFA Burmese that seven of the 10 victims died in the blaze that followed the military’s arson attack on July 18, while the remaining three were “beaten and shot to death” inside a local Buddhist monastery. Their bodies were discovered by residents who returned to the village on Tuesday after junta troops left the area.
The three victims executed by the military were identified as Moe Thin, 20, Tin Shwe, 20, and Maung Gyi, 45. Residents said that the seven who died in the fire had yet to be identified, as their remains were charred beyond recognition.
A resident of Kyi Su, who declined to be named, but identified himself as the brother of Moe Thein, said the raid began when junta troops were airlifted to the village in central Myanmar, which is home to a community of around 5,000 Muslims and Buddhists.
“While we were sitting in the village, two helicopters suddenly appeared in the air and began firing at us. Other helicopters dropped the soldiers, who came up along the main road and shot and arrested people, and then set fire to the houses,” he said.
“About 500 houses were burned down in the fire. My younger brother was killed. After having lost everything, we are now more determined than ever to fight against them till the end.”
The resident said that the number of buildings destroyed in the fire accounted for more than half of Kyi Su’s 900 homes and were predominantly located in the southern, Muslim section of the village. Only around 10 homes were torched in the northern section of the village, which is home to its smaller Buddhist community.
The junta which seized power from the elected government in February 2021 has faced the fiercest armed resistance in Sagaing region. Residents of the largely agricultural region have borne the brunt of army retaliation, often featuring burnings of villages that have displaced thousands of people.
Most of Sagaing’s 34 townships and more than 5,900 villages have been affected by fighting between military forces and members of the anti-junta People’s Defense Forces (PDF).
Possible religious violence
Another resident of Kyi Su, who spoke on condition of anonymity citing fear of reprisal, said that while furniture was destroyed in the village monastery, he believes the military raid specifically targeted the Muslim population.
“The Muslim school in the Eastern Mosque was burnt down. They fired at the buildings inside the mosque compound and smashed everything too. The Western Mosque also met the same fate,” he said.
“Most [of the people there] are Muslims. I think they were carrying out a form of religious violence.”
Residents told RFA that they were working to extinguish the remaining fires set by the military as recently as Wednesday morning.
They said the force that stormed the village comprised about 120 troops. Military uniforms were discovered in the village when residents returned, but it was unclear which unit the troops were from because the badges had been removed.
An Islamic religious leader from Kyi Su, who also declined to be named, told RFA that dozens of villagers are missing following the raid.
“About 100 people were arrested in the lightning raid. They were taken to the monastery and the elderly were later released. About 50 people are missing,” he said.
“We want the war to end as soon as possible, as the village is facing a lot of trouble. We need help badly now. Many people are homeless. The junta is inhuman and has no sympathy for the population at all. There’s no one worse than them in the world.”
Attempts by RFA to contact junta Deputy Minister of Information Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun went unanswered Wednesday.
A member of the anti-junta People’s Defense Force (PDF) paramilitary group based in neighboring Khin-U township called Monday’s raid “an act of cruelty against the people.”
“This kind of action is totally unacceptable. [The junta troops] cannot be compared even to animals,” he said.
“I don’t think there’s a single rifle in that village and yet, they used excessive force to murder people and burn the village. They even killed people at the entrance of the monastery. The actions of the military, which claims to protect the nation and religion, is truly loathsome.”
Other sources in the region told RFA that junta troops were raiding additional villages between Khin-U and Kanbalu townships on Wednesday in three columns.
Last month, independent research group Data For Myanmar, which studies the effects of conflict on communities, said that at least 18,886 houses had been destroyed by military arson across the country since the military seized power in a Feb. 1, 2021 coup.
According to Thai NGO Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, junta authorities have killed nearly 2,100 civilians and arrested more than 14,800 in the nearly 18 months since the takeover, mostly during peaceful anti-coup protests.
Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.