Myanmar’s Magway region suffers under military’s March offensive

Myanmar’s military killed as many as a dozen civilians and arrested nearly 30 others in restive Magway region in the month of March alone, while junta troops torched more than 700 houses in 18 of the region’s villages over the same period, residents said Friday.

Sources in Magway’s Gangaw township told RFA’s Myanmar Service that 10 deaths occurred from Feb. 28 to March 2 as troops raided the villages of Thindaw, Shwebo, Kone and Sann.

The military set more than 200 homes alight in Kone and Sann over the three-day period, they said, while a joint squad of some 100 troops and pro-military Pyu Saw Htee militia fighters burned another 200 on March 2 while attacking nearby Pauk township’s Leyar village.

A villager who spoke on condition of anonymity called the violence and destruction “unacceptable.”

“Our houses are antiques, built by hand according to our traditions. … Our house was built with five tree trunks as its pillars and the current market price is no less than 7-8 million kyats (U.S. $4,000-4,500),” he said.

“They attack and destroy everything indiscriminately. How can they believe that destroying the lives and property of ordinary people is justified?”

The resident’s rice mill, which he valued at around 1.5 million kyats (U.S. $850), was also destroyed in the attack, he said.

He said that more than 1,300 villagers were forced to flee the raids and have been living in the mountains ever since, unable to tend their farms.

Other sources told RFA that junta forces raided Letpan Hla village on March 3 and burned down 50 of the village’s 120 houses. A member of the anti-junta People’s Defense Force (PDF) paramilitary group in Pauk Township said the raid came in response to an attack by his group on the military.

“We couldn’t stand it anymore because they were causing so much trouble for the people,” said the PDF member, who also declined to be named. “They captured five of our comrades alive and they set them on fire. Three houses were also burned down.”

More than 470 residents of Letpan Hla fled the village during the military attack and have yet to return, he said.

In another incident, sources said, troops killed a mother and her son in a March 5 attack on Inn-Nge-Daung village. They said 29 people were arrested, including 12 women and nine children, and all remain in military custody.

Family detained

Lwin Wai, of Yezagyo township’s Taung Oh village, told RFA that authorities who came looking for him detained his mother and two other family members when they learned he wasn’t there.

“I’m worried about my family. My sister is only 14 years old now. She knows nothing about politics. She just likes watching movies and playing games,” he said.

“My mother had a surgical operation only about four months ago. We all are suffering under this injustice. I’m so furious that we are being bullied by people with weapons. I just want those who are innocent to be released unharmed.”

Lwin Wai said his family members were first detained by the 258th Infantry Regiment and are now being held at the Yezagyo Police Station on charges of “defamation,” with a court appointment set for April 4.

He said he is wanted for alleged ties to the PDF because area youth regularly come to his electronics repair shop to use his Wi-Fi connection. But he believes the accusation is retribution by the junta-appointed village administrator, who he once had a dispute with.

Other reported incidents included the killing of two villagers during a March 26 military raid on Yezagyo township’s Kutote village, and the burning of more than 250 houses in four Gangaw township villages during joint raids by junta troops and Pyu Saw Htee fighters on March 23 and 24.

Blaming the PDF

Attempts by RFA to reach junta Deputy Information Minister Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun for comment on the raids in Magway region went unanswered Friday. He has previously attributed arson attacks on civilian homes to the PDF, which the military regime has labeled a terrorist organization.

In a recent statement, the military claimed that on March 13 a unit of 20 PDF members had attempted to detain the junta-appointed administrator of Yezagyo township’s Gwaygyo village and burned down 17 homes when they could not locate him. RFA was unable to independently verify the junta claims.

Chit Win Maung, a member of the anti-junta Magway People’s War Committee, told RFA the junta intentionally harasses and kills civilians in the region “because they cannot rule us.”

“They have no people, no youth, supporting them,” he said. “We can see that they are trying to get rid of anyone who wants to stop their fascist movement. From a human rights point of view, they are oppressing the people.”

Magway is one of several regions where the junta has encountered particularly fierce resistance since it seized power in a Feb. 1, 2021, coup and launched a multi-pronged offensive against the PDF and armed ethnic groups in Myanmar’s remote border regions.

According to Data For Myanmar, a group that researches the social impact of conflict, junta troops have burned at least 7,248 homes across the country since the coup. At least 1,148 of the homes were in Magway region, the group said.

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