Eleven bodies found at site of chopper strike in Myanmar’s Sagaing region

Sources say five helicopters fired on a graduation ceremony for anti-junta militia recruits.
2022.02.04
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Eleven bodies found at site of chopper strike in Myanmar’s Sagaing region PDF members hold exercises on a field in Sagaing region's Myinmu township, January 2022.
Myinmu Township PDF

UPDATED at 1:47 p.m. EDT on 10/27/2022

The bodies of 11 people have been discovered in Myanmar’s Sagaing region, days after the military carried out an airstrike on a graduation ceremony for anti-junta militia recruits, killing several civilians, sources said Friday.

A resident of Myinmu township’s Pa Dat Taing village told RFA’s Myanmar Service that the bodies were found on Thursday at the edge of a field where the local People’s Defense Force (PDF) militia held a ceremony for graduates of its training program three days earlier. Eight of them were charred beyond recognition, he said, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal. 

“On Jan. 31, while we were watching a training graduation ceremony, helicopters swarmed the area and fired onto the grounds to prevent people from running away,” he said.

“I think they were mostly firing to warn people — if they had fired more heavily, they might have killed everyone in the village. Those who tried to run back to [Pa Dat Taing] were killed. We can’t identify the bodies because [junta troops] burned them.”

The villager said that five helicopters were involved in the attack and estimated that “at least 20 people were killed.”

More than 70 villagers were detained by ground troops during the attack and were not released until the military left Pa Dat Taing two days later, he said. It was only when residents were able to return to the village on Thursday that they discovered the bodies.

Kin Do, a member of Myinmu Township PDF, told RFA that everyone who was killed in the attack was a civilian.

“Their helicopters came in and started firing. They fired on both men and women — all of the people at the field who tried to run back to the village,” he said.

“There were no deaths from among the PDF fighters. I think at least 20 civilians got killed. [Junta troops] piled up the bodies on the street, burned them, and discarded the remains everywhere. It was so barbaric.”

Kin Do said the military helicopters showed up at the exact time of the graduation ceremony, noting that several leaders from different anti-junta groups were in attendance. PDF fighters did not respond to the attack for fear of injuring civilians, he added.

Other sources estimated that at least 80 junta ground troops were involved in the assault on the graduation ceremony and were members of the Northwestern Military Command Division based in Monywa, Sagaing region’s largest city.

Repeated attempts by RFA to contact junta Deputy Information Minister Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun for comment on the incident in Pa Dat Taing village went answered on Friday.

Thousands displaced by fighting

Meanwhile, residents of Myinmu township told RFA that around 8,000 people from Pa Dat Taing, Malae Thar, Thama Taw, Gulu and Nyaung Pin villages remain displaced after fleeing during the helicopter attack.

One villager, who declined to be named, said they are too frightened to return home.

“We are hiding as of today. We are all too afraid to return home because of the airstrike. We don’t know when they will return to attack again,” they said.

“Thousands of people have fled their homes. There are many women, children, and elderly people. Many of them are sheltering at a nearby monastery. These people are from five villages near where the incident occurred.”

Other residents said that after the helicopter attack, junta soldiers raided their homes and stole their property.

Local PDF sources said tensions have been running high in Myinmu township following a recent clash in which junta troops shot four PDF members in nearby Madu Ya village.

Earlier this week, troops in Sagaing region razed more than 400 homes in two villages they accuse of providing a haven for anti-junta forces, forcing an estimated 10,000 civilians to flee, according to residents.

The attack occurred on the evening of Jan. 31, when around 100 soldiers entered Mwe Tone and Pan villages in Pale township and began setting structures ablaze, sources said.

Prior to the fires, PDF fighters had attacked an outpost in Inn Ma Htee village, where troops were reportedly conducting a training exercise for the pro-military Pyusawhtee militia group.

Villagers told RFA that the burning of the two villages was a form of payback for casualties the military suffered in the Inn Ma Htee village attack.

Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

Correction: An earlier version of this story mistakenly referred to Pa Dat Taing village as Padoke Tin village.

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