Troops loyal to Myanmar’s military regime destroyed nearly 100 houses in a village in Sagaing division’s Ayeyarwaddy township on Monday morning, claiming members of a local anti-junta militia had sheltered there, according to residents.
A resident of Ayeyarwaddy’s Kebar village told RFA’s Myanmar Service on condition of anonymity that nearly all inhabitants had fled the area before soldiers arrived around 9:00 a.m. and were unable to put out the fires until some seven hours later, when it was already too late.
“They started torching the houses as soon as they entered the village. It wasn’t one house that started burning. Many houses started burning at the same time,” she said.
“Almost all houses got burned down. They burned down around 100 houses.”
The military has claimed that fighters with a local branch of the anti-junta People’s Defense Forces (PDF) were taking shelter in Kebar village following engagements between the militia and government troops on Dec. 6 and 8. There are around 300 households in the village in total.
Residents said that members of the No. 10 Military Basic Training Troops, also known as the East Troops, and military supporters were among the forces who entered the village on Monday. They said that the soldiers are stationed at the Myae See Gone pagoda near neighboring Thale Bar village, around two miles away.
Ko Myo Gyee, a member of the PDF from Kebar village, told RFA that people who live in the woods between Kebar and Thale Bar saw troops advancing and informed residents of Kebar so that they could flee in advance of their arrival.
“There were [pro-junta] Pyusaw Htee local militia forces in Thale bar village and other villages nearby. The combined forces of local Pyusaw Htee came to the village with the soldiers. They are around 100 in total,” he said.
“Before they entered the village, they fired light and heavy artillery into the village. So, we had to retreat since they were using disproportionate force. They raided the village and burned down most houses. They even destroyed the school and monastery. They also ate the food left in the houses.”
Ko Myo Gyee said that around 2,000 people live in Kebar, most of whom are farmers of rice paddy and sesame.
“We lost the crops we have harvested,” he said.
“We were able to extinguish the fires, but most villagers are still hiding in the woods since they are too afraid to come home and are now scraping by however they can for their survival.”
According to Ko Myo Gyee, among those still hiding in the forest are the elderly, children, pregnant women, and even a paraplegic man who had to be carried out of the village on a cart.
“The military forces have abused their power since the first day they illegally took power on Feb. 1,” he said.
“Our village was one of the first in the region to protest military rule. Everyone in the village came out on their vehicles, motorbikes, and farm wagons to march to the protest in the city. That’s why, the military forces attacked us in retaliation.”
On Feb. 1, Myanmar’s military seized power in a coup, alleging that the National League for Democracy engineered a landslide victory in the November 2020 election through widespread voter fraud. The junta has yet to provide evidence of its claims and has violently repressed anti-coup protests, killing at least 1,329 people and arresting nearly 8,000 others, according to the Bangkok-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.
RFA was unable to independently verify the cause of the fires at Kebar village. Attempts to contact Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun, the junta’s deputy Information Minister, went unanswered Monday.
Also on Monday, the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) announced that citizen journalist Aung San Linn, who has been contributing news reports from Sagaing’s Wet Latt township, was arrested on the evening of Dec. 11 after he filed a story about the military and Pyu Saw Htee militia forces burning down the homes of three NLD supporters a day earlier.
According to the news outlet, around 20 soldiers arrived at Aung San Linn’s home in Wet Latt’s Pinn Zinn village on Dec. 11 and beat him before taking him away.
Aye Chan Naing, executive director of DVB, confirmed the arrest to RFA but said he is unsure of Aung San Linn’s status.
“So far, we haven’t got any updated news about him. We heard he was taken to the Shwe Bo military station and is no longer in his village in Wet Latt township,” he said.
Aye Chan Naing said Aung San Linn’s family members have not been allowed to meet him and are concerned about his wellbeing.
According to DVB, Aung San Linn worked as citizen journalist for the outlet for more than four years and has continued contributing reports even after military authorities ramped up the arrest of reports after the coup.
DVB said the authorities checked Aung San Lin’s mobile phone before taking him away and it is possible that they learned of his reporting on military and Pyu Saw Htee militia forces burning down the homes of three NLD supporters from Kyauk Kone village on Dec. 10.
After the military coup, DVB reporters Aung Kyaw, Min Nyo and Thet Naing Win were arrested and handed prison sentences of up to three years. The three were all released on Oct. 18 under a general amnesty.
According to RFA’s records, the military has arrested some 110 journalists since the military coup and at least 40 remain in prison.
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