“We live in fear”: Burmese army uses murder and arson as weapon of war, witnesses say

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When the young farm worker returned to his village in Myanmar, he found the corpses still smoking in a circle in a burnt down hut, some with limbs tied.

The Burmese army stormed Done Taw at 11 a.m. on December 7, he told the PA, with around 50 soldiers chasing people on foot, killing 10 people including five teenagers. A photo taken by his friend shows the charred remains of a victim lying on his stomach, holding his head held high, suggesting he was burned alive.

“I am very upset, this is unacceptable,” said the 19-year-old, who, like others interviewed by the AP, asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals.

Done Taw carnage is just one of the most recent signs that the Burmese military is reverting to a strategy of massacres as a weapon of war, according to PA investigation based on interviews with 40 witnesses, media reports. social media, satellite images and death data.

The massacres and scorched earth tactics – like the razing of entire villages – represent the latest escalation in military violence against civilians and growing opposition. Since the army seized power in February, it has cracked down more and more brutally, kidnapping young men and boys, killing health workers and torturing prisoners.

They also signal a return to practices the military has long used against ethnic minorities such as the Rohingya Muslims, thousands of whom were killed in 2017. The military is accused of killing at least 35 people on Christmas Eve. in the village of Mo So, a Karenni ethnic region.

But this time the military is also using the same methods against the people and villages of its own Bamar Buddhist ethnic majority. Most of the latest killings have focused on the northwest, including in the heart of Bamar where support for the opposition is strong.

More than 80 people have died in the murder of three or more people in the Sagaing region alone, including those in Done Taw, since August, according to data from the Association for the Assistance of Political Prisoners, or AAPP, a group who monitors arrests and verified deaths in Burma.

The army is also resuming a characteristic tactic of destroying entire villages where there may be opposition support. Satellite images obtained by AP from Maxar Technologies show that more than 580 buildings have been set on fire in the northwestern town of Thantlang alone since September.

“Similar cases are currently occurring across the country, especially in northwest Myanmar,” Kyaw Moe Tun, who refused to quit his post as Myanmar’s envoy to the United Nations after the seizure of power by the army. “Look at the pattern, look at how it happened… it’s systematic and widespread. “

The military, known as Tatmadaw, did not respond to multiple requests for comment by phone and email. Three days after the attack on Done Taw, the state newspaper Global New Light of Myanmar called reports of the killings “false news”, accusing unidentified countries of “wanting to disintegrate Myanmar” by inciting them to the bloodshed.

Since the army took power in February, more than 1,375 people have been killed by soldiers and police, and more than 11,200 arrested, according to the AAPP.

In May, the opposition national unity government announced a new military wing, the People’s Defense Forces, and in September declared a “defensive war”. Cowardly guerrilla groups calling themselves PDF have since emerged across the country, with varying degrees of NUG allegiance.

“We all live in fear”

An early example of the military unleashing its combat-proven tactics in predominantly Buddhist areas came just 23 miles upstream from the Done Taw River in Kani Township. In July, images circulated of massacres in four small villages that Myanmar’s ambassador to the United Nations called “crimes against humanity.”

Four witnesses told the PA that soldiers killed 43 people in four incidents and dumped their bodies in the jungle.

“We all live in fear,” said a woman whose brother was killed, who like other villagers requested to remain anonymous for security reasons.

The army’s attacks in Sagaing are seen as the first salute in a campaign to eliminate resistance in northwest Myanmar, and recent troop movements suggest violence may soon resume.

According to an opposition group, two military convoys of more than 80 trucks each carrying troops and supplies from Sagaing arrived in neighboring Chin state.

And a former military captain, who deserted in March, told the PA that Chin State soldiers were resupplied and reinforced in October, and that the military is now stocking ammunition, fuel and rations at Sagaing.

“We are talking about the heart of Bamar which should fundamentally be the foundation of this army,” said Manny Maung, researcher for Human Rights Watch. “It shows how worried the military is for its own people.”

As new soldiers poured into Chin State, residents reported that troops were cracking down on the protests with live ammunition and brutal beatings.

A teacher from Mindat town said the army fired artillery fire at the town so that “the houses are shaking like an earthquake,” she said. She fled to India in October after her cousin, a PDF member, was killed by a sniper.

A half-day’s drive west of Mindat is Matupi, a town with two military camps that is now deprived of its young people, according to a student who fled with her two teenage brothers in October. She said the military locked people in houses and set them on fire, hid bombs in churches and schools, killed three protest leaders she knew and left bodies in the middle of the roads to terrorize people. .

Thantlang, a town near the Indian border, was also emptied of its population after four months of heavy fighting, according to the Chin Human Rights Organization. Drone footage shot by the group in October and December and seen by the PA shows fires raging inside charred buildings and churches, collapsed schools and crumbling homes. The images correspond to fires detected by satellites and to interviews with villagers.

Still, there are growing signs that the military’s intimidation strategy could build people’s resistance rather than leave them intimidated.

“Instead of dying while fleeing, I will use my life for a purpose,” said one Kani survivor.

Likewise, the farm worker who spoke to the PA about the Done Taw massacre is now defiant, vowing to side with the PDF.

“I just decided to fight to the end for them,” he said. “I will do whatever I can until I die or until I am arrested.”


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