Myanmar troops have rampaged through several villages, raping, beheading and killing at least 17 people, residents said, in what critics of the ruling military say is the latest in a series of war crimes since the army seized power two years ago.
The bodies of 17 people were recovered last week in the villages of Nyaung Yin and Tar Taing – also called Tatai – in central Myanmar’s Sagaing region, according to a resident who lost members of the anti-government resistance and his wife. They said the victims were detained by the military and in some cases appeared to have been tortured before being killed.
The unrest has been ongoing since the army seized power from the elected government in February 2021 It prompted peaceful protests across the country that were suppressed by security forces with deadly force. The violence sparked widespread armed resistance, which some UN experts later characterized as a civil war.
UGC through AP
The army has been conducting massive operations in the countryside, including burning villages and driving millions from their homes. It has faced its toughest resistance in Myanmar’s historical heartland of Sagaing.
Local leaders of the pro-democracy People’s Defense Force and independent Myanmar media said the soldiers involved in last week’s attack were in a group of more than 90 who were flown into the area on February 23 in five helicopters.
They said the bodies of 14 people, including three women, were found on a small island in a river in Niang Yin on Thursday. Three other male victims were found in his Taeng, including two members of the local resistance. One of the two was decapitated, they said.
The surrounding villages are located about 45 kilometers (28 mi) west of the main city of Mandalay.
Tar Taing resident Mo Qiao, 42, survived the attack but said his 39-year-old wife, Pan Thawal, and 18-year-old nephew were among the dead. Reached by phone, he said on Friday that they were among 70 villagers detained last Wednesday at midnight by soldiers who opened fire in the air while taking their captives from their homes to a local Buddhist monastery.
Mo Qiao said the soldiers stole beer and other items from his aunt’s small shop, and as they beat him, he ran for his life, two soldiers shooting him and escaping.
He said his wife and other villagers were tortured at the monastery and then taken from the village, apparently as hostages against any attack. His wife and two other women were beaten, raped and shot dead by soldiers on Thursday, who also took his wife’s earrings, his two sons, aged 9 and 11, were released when the soldiers left, he said. .
Mo Qiao did not explain how he knew the details of his wife’s treatment.
Myanmar’s underground National Unity Government – the main opposition to the military rule that describes itself as the country’s legitimate government – said in an online news conference on Monday that the soldiers were from the 99th Light Infantry Division based in the Mandalay region.
A leader of the Sagaing resistance group, the Demon King Defense Force, said his group attacked well-armed government troops on Wednesday in a failed attempt to rescue trapped villagers.
When they went to the small island Thursday morning where soldiers had taken about 20 villagers they found 14 bodies in three places, said the resistance leader, who asked not to be identified for fear of military reprisals.
Admitting that he did not see the murder, he said he also believed that the women were raped.
In an earlier incident apparently involving the same army unit, two boys aged 12 and 13 were captured and beheaded by government soldiers on February 26 after being forced to reveal their camp locations, according to independent Myanmar media. Photos of their bodies found in Kan Da village, about 12 kilometers (7 miles) northwest of Tar Taeng, were circulated on social media.
A separate group, the Sadaung Lighting People’s Defense Force, said two of their older teenage members were also killed and beheaded in fighting in Kan Dat on the same day.
The military government did not respond to the allegations. In the past, it has denied documented abuses and said casualties occurred while fighting armed anti-government guerrillas. Pro-military government online media have made similar claims about recent incidents in Sagaing or suggested they were the result of factional fighting within the resistance.
Myanmar’s military has long been accused of serious human rights abuses, particularly in western Rakhine. The International Court of Justice is considering whether it committed genocide there in a brutal 2017 crackdown that forced more than 700,000 members of the Muslim Rohingya minority to flee to neighboring Bangladesh for safety.
Last week, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk accused the ruling generals of continuing “a scorched earth policy in an attempt to silence the opposition”.
His agency said credible sources had verified the deaths of at least 2,940 civilians and the arrest of 17,572 soldiers and their allies since the 2021 occupation.