Myanmar junta troops torched dozens of houses across three villages in a restive northern region last week, according to villagers and local media, as the regime struggles to crush resistance to its rule.
The Southeast Asian country has been in chaos since a putsch last February, with anti-coup “People’s Defence Force” fighters clashing with junta troops across the nation.
The northern Sagaing region has seen fierce fighting and bloody reprisals, with the junta calling in airstrikes and reports widespread of soldiers burning villages.
Troops arrived in Ta Moke village in Khin Oo township in the afternoon of March 15, local Ko Kyaw said.
“They went on and burned house by house. So everyone in the village had to flee,” he added, requesting to use a pseudonym.
Soldiers also torched dozens of houses in nearby Kalar Luu and Shar Lwin villages on March 16, locals and media reports said.
“We don’t have anything left,” said Khin Ma, also requesting to go by another name.
“We just shelter under the mango trees and sleep on plastic sheets… Sometimes I think it will be better if we had died as we have lost belongings and our house.”
Footage obtained by AFP from the three villages showed ruined buildings, blackened trees and piles of smouldering ash. Some houses were still standing.
AFP digital verification reporters confirmed the footage had not appeared online before March 15. A pagoda seen in the video matched the geolocation of a pagoda in Ta Moke.
“One soldier said ‘burn the house’ and another said ‘don’t burn it’,” said Ta Moke resident Aye Aye Maw, also requesting a pseudonym.
“I asked them where I should go if they burned it, and they told me to sleep underneath a mango tree… I had no time to take anything from my house, my whole body was shaking.”
Satellite images from US agency Nasa recorded fires at Ta Moke village on March 16, and at Kalar Luu village on March 17.
The junta has previously rebuffed claims its troops have torched houses, accusing “terrorist” People’s Defence Force fighters of starting the fires.
In mid-December the United States and United Nations condemned the junta over what Washington described as “credible and sickening” reports of the killing of 11 villagers, including children, in the Sagaing region.
Myanmar has been in turmoil since the military ousted Aung San Suu Kyi’s government last year, with over 1,700 people killed in a crackdown on dissent, according to a local monitoring group.