Editor’s note: This story contains graphic descriptions and images that may be disturbing to some readers.
Myanmar junta troops massacred 11 civilians in northwestern Sagaing region on Tuesday, reportedly burning them alive in apparent retaliation for militia attacks, local residents and militia said.
Villagers told RFA that the victims were farm workers although at least one news report that named the fatalities said most were members of a local People’s Defense Force (PDF) militia fighting the junta.
Graphic video footage of the aftermath of the atrocity went viral on social media inside Myanmar, provoking outrage. The video showed smoldering, blackened corpses lying in ash, with charred, outstretched limbs.
The victims were local workers living in tents outside Don Taw village in Sagaing’s Salingyi township and had not been involved in recent fighting in the area, one villager told RFA on Tuesday.
“Some had been hired for working in betel nut plantations, and some were workers in the palm forests outside Don Taw,” the villager said, speaking on condition of anonymity for security reasons.
“They were poor day-wage workers and lived in the shelters where they worked,” the villager said.
The workers were attacked by a column of government troops who fired heavy weapons into the village Tuesday morning as they advanced from the North Yamar Bridge along the Monywa-Pathein Road, the villager said.
“When we fled the village this morning, we saw smoke billowing up, and later when we went back to look we saw that the men had been burned to death.”
Another villager said the workers had been found with hands tied behind their backs and had struggled to free themselves before they died.
“They appeared to have been tortured and then set on fire while they were still alive. They were tied with wire and not with ordinary rope,” the villager said, also speaking on condition his name not be used.
“There were 11 of them, all from the village,” he said.
The troops’ assault on Don Taw followed an attack the previous night by PDF fighters against a column of around 150 soldiers near Kyae Zakya village, along with a separate PDF assault on government forces near a hospital in Yinmabin, a local PDF member said.
“They must have suffered some casualties during those attacks last night,” said one the PDF member who also did not want to be named for security reasons.
“A convoy was attacked with mines near the Yinmabin 16-bed hospital, and there were some casualties and some vehicles were destroyed. And the killings today in Don Taw appear to have been carried out in revenge for those attacks.”
“But the men they killed were not PDF members. They were just ordinary villagers,” he said.
However, media outlet Myanmar Now (warning: hyperlink to a graphic image) cited an unnamed leader of the anti-junta Done Taw PDF as saying all but one of the 11 victims, a 40-year-old paraplegic man, were members of that PDF. It listed the names and ages of all the victims, who were all male and included four teenagers aged under 18.
That PDF member said the 11 victims were unarmed and had been burned alive after soldiers beat them to the brink of death.
It was not immediately possible to reconcile the conflicting accounts.
Junta spokesman Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun did not pick up calls seeking comment Tuesday.
The atrocity is sure to deepen the growing domestic and international revulsion over the conduct of Myanmar’s military against opponents of its Feb. 1 coup against the civilian government of Aung San Suu Kyi.
In Sagaing alone, hundreds of civilians have been killed in the past 10 months as the area has become a center of armed resistance to the junta.
Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Richard Finney.
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