Villagers bury 11 said burned alive in Myanmar’s Sagaing region
The victims included at least four youths and were all related to one another, sources said.
The remains of nearly a dozen victims – including four youths – who were burned alive by junta troops during an attack on a village in Sagaing region were buried Wednesday, according to residents, as a U.N. spokesman condemned the grisly deaths.
On Tuesday, 11 people were killed in what residents of Salingyi township’s Don Taw village are calling a massacre by the military in retaliation for an attack on one of its convoys earlier that day by a local branch of the anti-junta People’s Defense Forces (PDF) militia.
The office of the spokesperson for U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said it was "deeply concerned by the reports of the horrific killing of 11 people" and called for an international response.
"We strongly condemn such violence and remind Myanmar’s military authorities of their obligations under international law to ensure the safety and protection of civilians. Those individuals responsible for this heinous act must be held to account," it said in a statement Wednesday.
Ten of the victims have been identified by shadow National Unity Government (NUG) media outlet Public Voice TV as Arkar Soe (14), San Min Oo (17), Than Myint Aung (17), Kyaw Thet (17), Chit Nan Oo (19), San Ko (20), Win Kaw (20), Htet Ko (22), Zin Min Tun (22) and Tint Naing (30). Residents of the roughly 300-home village said the victims were all cousins or close relatives.
Villagers told RFA’s Myanmar Service that the victims were farm workers although at least one news report that named the slain men said most were members of the PDF.
A resident of Don Taw said Wednesday that preparations were underway to bury the victims but expressed concern for the safety of the village as fighting continued in the vicinity.
“We have to bury them amid this turmoil, but we don’t want to leave them behind and so we will just bury them on this very spot. We don’t have any transportation here,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“We still can hear some shooting and firing of heavy weapons. We will build a common pyre and burn the bodies. Their ashes will be collected, and we will set up a little memorial for them.”
Zin Min Tun’s wife, who declined to be named, told RFA that she and her husband were separated as troops fired artillery into the village, causing a panic. She said she has remained in hiding since her husband was killed on Tuesday.
“I didn’t know anything about what had happened … His phone was off,” she said.
“Some people who were hiding nearby later told me he was shot and set on fire while still alive. I still haven’t seen his body yet. We are far outside the village and still cannot return there yet.”
The widow told RFA that she had been married to Zin Min Tun – a betel nut plantation worker – for seven years and said the two have a 4-year-old son.
“This is the third time we have been attacked, but [our village has] never started anything [with the military]. He was murdered for nothing, and I will never forget this,” she said.
“I pray that they suffer the same fate as us. My young son doesn’t have a father anymore. I hope their sons and daughters and parents will suffer like us too. I pray that the current dictatorship will end as soon as possible.”
Since orchestrating a coup on Feb. 1, security forces in Myanmar have killed nearly 1,320 civilians and arrested 7,860 more, mostly in crackdowns on nonviolent anti-junta protests. The military has launched a series of offensives throughout the country’s remote border regions where reports regularly emerge of the looting and burning of homes and civilian deaths.
A Don Taw villager told RFA that he had heard of the military’s atrocities before but said burning people alive is on a new level of brutality.
“We are suffering all over the country. I know these people are cruel, but I have never thought they would be so cruel as to burn unarmed minors,” the villager said.
“I think they did it to scare us, but it didn’t, and we will fight them to the end.”
Attempts by RFA to contact Deputy Military Information Minister Zaw Min Tun for comment went unanswered on Wednesday. However, the military information team had earlier told reporters that there was no such incident in which 11 villagers had been set on fire, calling the news “false.”
National Unity Government Human Rights Minister Aung Myo Min said the military’s actions in Don Taw village constitute a serious human rights violation that should be prosecuted under international law.
“We need international pressure and legal action against them immediately to end the suffering of the people,” he said. “Otherwise, justice will not be served to the victims of this violence currently seen all across the country.”
A member of the PDF from nearby Yinmabin township told RFA that fighting broke out again between the army and area militias last night following the burning of the Don Taw villagers.
“We suffered no casualties, and nobody was arrested,” he said.
“They first opened fire with heavy weapons from Shwe Taung Oo Hill. We used guerrilla warfare to fight them. We didn’t fight for a long period. They have better weaponry and so we’d just ambush them and run.”
Kani, Salingyi, Pale and Yinmabin were the first townships in Sagaing region to fight back against the military because residents were unwilling to accept the military coup. Inhabitants of the area have reported that the junta regularly deploys military planes and helicopter gunships to the sites of clashes as the resistance grows stronger.
RFA’s own reporting has found that more than 400 civilians have been killed in Sagaing region in the 10 months since the coup.
Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.