Military troops have killed at least six people in a raid on a village in Myanmar’s Sagaing region, residents said Wednesday, amid reports that an anti-junta paramilitary group killed seven people in an attack intended as revenge for the executions of four democracy activists.
Sources from Salingyi township’s Yae Mein (South) village said the bodies of six men were discovered when residents returned to the area on Wednesday following the raid a day earlier.
Four of the men were identified as Chit Shwe, 70; Aung Moe, 35; Aung Khaing, 40; and Moe Oo, a 30-year-old member of the anti-junta People’s Defense Force (PDF). The two others had yet to be identified, sources said, adding that they “might have been brought along by the troops.”
A resident who spoke to RFA Burmese on condition of anonymity, citing fear of reprisal, said that the body of PDF fighter Moe Oo was found buried in a shallow grave, while the rest of the bodies were discovered in nearby Yae Mein village (North).
“We found the body of the PDF guy and buried it. We found the bodies of the other three men from Yae Mein (South) village in Yae Mein (North) Village. Altogether, there were six bodies,” the resident said.
“After spending the night in Yay Mein, the soldiers killed them before leaving the village. They raided every village in their path and wreaked havoc. They arrested and tortured people in all of the villages,” he added, without providing details of which other villages had been targeted by the troops.
Residents said the six victims all displayed signs of “serious head injuries” and “gunshot wounds.”
A family member of Aung Moe, who also declined to be named, said the troops had killed him as he returned home for a break from farming.
“When the military entered the village, we all fled because we were afraid. But he came back from the fields for lunch and was nabbed,” the family member said.
“He was beaten up during interrogation the whole day and finally killed.”
According to the relative, Aung Moe’s body was found shirtless with a scarf bearing the logo of the deposed National League for Democracy (NLD) around his neck and “covered with htameins,” or women’s sarongs.
“His hands were tied at the back and his body was dumped in a [rice] paddy bin,” they said.
Family members of Chit Shwe and Aung Khaing said the two men were also killed when they returned to the village following the initial raid on Tuesday. They said Aung Khaing’s eyeballs had been “gouged out.”
It was not immediately clear which military battalion was responsible for the raid and the killings.
The military had yet to release any information regarding the incident and calls by RFA to junta Deputy Minister of Information Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun went unanswered Wednesday.
Act akin to ‘war crime’
A Salingyi-based member of parliament for Sagaing region, who also requested anonymity for security reasons, said the killings in Yae Mein (South) village amounted to a “war crime.”
“The military no longer sees members of the public as citizens, but as enemies,” they said.
“Not all people are PDFs or even armed. They are living their lives peacefully. But when troops enter villages … they act in ways that are not in line with a soldier’s ethics. They shoot people in the heads or cut their throats. These are war crimes committed against innocent people.”
A resident of Lin Sa Kyet village, situated nearby Yae Mein (South), told RFA the killings were “so horrible that people of nearby villages are now terrified of the junta troops.”
“The military is brutal. When they enter villages, they kill anyone they find suspicious. They simply shoot people in the heads,” he said.
“The local people are suffering tremendously. They have no place to live. [Those who have fled] are still taking shelter in the jungle. They are finding life very difficult.”
A member of the Salingyi Revolution Army (SRA), a local PDF group, said his group will confront the military to prevent troops from harming any more residents of the township.
“[The troops] no longer have the ability to fight on the ground, so they are bullying and attacking innocent people,” he said.
“We will retaliate. Our focus will be on the military. Our plan is to attack their [supporters]. We’ve been fighting them guerrilla-style in the past, but now we’re going to start fighting them head-on.”
Residents of Salingyi told RFA that two columns of around 150 junta troops are currently operating in the township. They said some 3,000 people from 10 villages have fled their homes because of the military’s presence, and are taking shelter in the jungle.
PDF revenge attack
The discovery of the six bodies in Salingyi township came amid reports by state media and the PDF that seven people were killed in fighting in a village in Magway region, where homes were set on fire in a revenge attack.
Eight local PDF groups raided the pro-junta Pyu Saw Htee militia-occupied village in Pauk township on Monday in retaliation for the weekend executions of four democracy activists, a statement from the PDF groups said.
Former student leader Ko Jimmy, former NLD MP Phyo Zeya Thaw, and two other democracy activists, were hanged Saturday in Yangon’s Insein prison – the first judicial executions in decades. That has further fueled opposition to the military council that seized power from an elected government in February 2021.
A PDF officer said the village had strong leanings towards pro-junta militias and locals were heavily armed.
“Fighting started at 5.30 a.m. and continued beyond 7 a.m.,” said the officer-in-charge of the Southern Pauk Guerrilla Force, who did not give his name for security reasons.
A PDF news release on Tuesday named the attack “Operation Zeya Thaw.”
It said eight joint PDFs, including the Southern Pauk Guerrilla Force, banded together to launch the attack. It said the seven people killed were Pyu Saw Htee militiamen.
Junta-aligned newspapers reported Tuesday that the seven fatalities were civilians, including two members of the village defense force and two children, and that 41 houses were burned down. Kyemon Daily newspaper printed blurred photos of blackened corpses.
The PDFs said they had warned the public about the attacks in advance and civilians had not been deliberately targeted.
This year has seen an upsurge in arson attacks and killings in Myanmar’s Magway and Sagaing regions as violence has spiraled between junta forces and PDFs.
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 coup.
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