Tens of thousands flee military operations in Myanmar’s Shan state and Sagaing region

Scorched-earth military operations in Myanmar’s southern Shan state and Sagaing region have forced nearly 40,000 people to flee their homes in the past two days, sources said Wednesday.

Around 30,000 residents from 30 villages in Sagaing’s Depayin township and 10,000 from 20 villages in nearby Shan state’s Pekon township sought refuge as government soldiers conducted raids in the area from Nov. 8-9, setting buildings alight under the pretext of fighting terrorism, members of the pro-democracy People’s Defense Force (PDF) militia and residents told RFA’s Myanmar Service.

The 50 villages are centers of dogged resistance to the military regime, which has waged an offensive against ethnic armed organizations and anti-junta forces in the country’s remote border regions since seizing power from the democratically elected National League for Democracy (NLD) government in a Feb. 1 coup.

A member of the Depayin PDF told RFA Wednesday that the military raided several villages on Tuesday morning, torching homes and arresting residents.

“We could see through our binoculars as they were burning several houses,” the militia fighter said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“What worries us is that most of our wooden houses were [coated] with oil [leftover from crude oil refining] and they could catch fire very easily.”

Depayin PDF leader Ko Thukha said a fire the military started on a haystack in Wunyan village spread to nearby homes during Tuesday’s raid. He added that at least six buildings in Kone Yoe and Tat Tae West villages were torched by the soldiers. At least three middle-aged women were taken hostage from Kone Yoe, he said.

The military acknowledged that it had raided several villages in Western Depayin township beginning on Monday evening after sending troops to the area aboard three helicopters.

Additionally, government troops stormed a PDF camp in Pekon township on Monday and set fire to nearby Latu village, according to a local militia who declined to be named.

“They set fire to a PDF camp and as the camp was close to the village, they also set fire to the village,” the PDF fighter said.

“I don’t think there are many houses left in the village. We couldn’t get close to the village and could only view it from a distance.”

The militia member said fighting had intensified in the area in recent days with the army attacking “in great numbers,” forcing the PDF to withdraw from its camp.

Severe rights violations

Junta spokesman Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun dismissed the reports as “allegations,” telling RFA that the military “has no reason to burn villages.”

“We are working to secure the area in Sagaing region, but we didn’t set any villages on fire — there’s no reason to do that,” he said.

“[On Tuesday], there were clashes with about 15 PDF militants in the southwestern part of Pekon. We seized some ammunition and their training grounds, and tents were confiscated.”

Aung Myo Min, human rights minister for Myanmar’s shadow National Unity Government (NUG), said that if true the allegations would represent severe human rights violations.

“We have received hundreds of thousands of complaints about this, but we have to thoroughly investigate everything before we can take legal action,” he said, adding that reports were being systematically documented.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in September that more than 120,000 people have been displaced by fighting since May 21 in Kayah and southeastern Shan states, in addition to tens of thousands in Chin, Kachin, and Kayin states, as well as Magway and Sagaing regions.

In late August, OCHA announced that the number of people who need humanitarian aid in Myanmar had increased to nearly two million since the military coup. Those displaced by the recent fighting join more than 500,000 refugees from decades of conflict between the military and ethnic armies who were already counted as war refugees at the end of 2020, according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center, a Norwegian NGO.

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