Soldiers in Myanmar rampaged through several villages, raping, beheading and killing at least 17 people, residents said, in the latest in what critics of the ruling army say are 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 anti-government resistance members and a resident who lost his wife. . They said the victims had been detained by the military and in some cases appeared to have been tortured before being killed.
Myanmar has been in turmoil since the military seized power of the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi in February 2021, sparking peaceful protests across the country that security forces suppressed with deadly force. The violence sparked widespread armed resistance, which has since escalated into what some UN experts have characterized as a civil war.
The army has been carrying out major offensives in the countryside, including burning villages and driving hundreds of thousands of people from their homes. It has faced some of its toughest resistance in Sagaing, in the historic heart of Myanmar.
The soldiers involved in last week’s attacks were among a group of more than 90 who were brought to the area by five helicopters on February 23, local leaders of the pro-democracy People’s Defense Forces and the media said. independent from Myanmar.
They said the bodies of 14 people, including three women, were found Thursday on a small island in a river in Nyaung Yin. Three other male victims were found in Tar Taing, including two members of the local resistance. One of the two was dismembered, with his head severed, they said.
Neighboring towns are about 45 kilometers (28 miles) west of the main city of Mandalay.
Tar Taing resident Moe Kyaw, 42, survived the attack but said his 39-year-old wife, Pan Thwal, and 18-year-old nephew were among the dead. Contacted by phone, he said Friday they were among 70 villagers detained in the middle of last Wednesday night by soldiers who fired into the air as they led their captives from their homes to the local Buddhist monastery.
Moe Kyaw said the soldiers stole beer and other items from his aunt’s small store, and as they beat her, he fled for his life, escaping two soldiers who shot him.
He said his wife and other villagers were tortured in the monastery and then taken from the village, apparently as hostages against any attack. He said his wife and two other women were beaten, raped and shot to death Thursday by soldiers, who also took his wife’s earrings. His two children, ages 9 and 11, were released when the soldiers left, he said.
Moe Kyaw did not explain how he knew the details about his wife’s treatment.
Myanmar’s underground Government of National Unity, the main organization opposing the military government that describes itself as the country’s legitimate government, told an online press conference Monday that the soldiers were from the 99th Light Infantry Division. based in the Mandalay region.
A leader of a Sagaing resistance group called the Demon King Defense Force said his group attacked the best-armed government troops on Wednesday in a failed effort to rescue detained villagers.
When they went Thursday morning to the small island where soldiers had taken about 20 villagers, they found 14 bodies in three places, said the resistance leader, who asked not to be named for fear of reprisals from the military.
Acknowledging that he had not seen the killings, he said he also believed the women had been raped.
In an earlier incident apparently involving the same army unit, two boys aged 12 and 13 who were helping the People’s Defense Forces were captured by government troops on February 26 and beheaded after being forced to show the location of their their camps, according to independent Myanmar media. Photos said to be of their bodies, found in Kan Daw village, about 12 kilometers (7 miles) northwest of Tar Taing, circulated on social media.
A separate group, the Sadaung Enlightenment People’s Defense Force, has said that two of its older teenage members were also killed and beheaded in fighting in Kan Daw on the same day.
The military government has not responded to the accusations. In the past, he has denied documented abuses and said casualties occurred in the course of fighting against armed anti-government guerrillas. Online media supporting the military government have made the same claim about the recent incidents in Sagaing or have suggested that they were the result of factional fighting within the resistance.
The Myanmar military has long been accused of serious human rights violations, most notably in the western Rakhine state. International tribunals are considering whether he committed genocide there in a brutal 2017 counter-insurgency campaign that caused more than 700,000 members of the Rohingya Muslim minority to flee to neighboring Bangladesh for safety.
Last week, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk, accused the ruling generals of carrying out “a scorched earth policy in an attempt to stamp out the opposition.”
His agency said credible sources have verified the deaths of at least 2,940 civilians and 17,572 arrests by the military and its allies since the 2021 takeover.