Hundreds of civilians dead in Myanmar’s embattled Sagaing region since coup

The total of non-combatant deaths reflect the region’s central role in the resistance.
Hundreds of civilians dead in Myanmar’s embattled Sagaing region since coup Residents of Sagaing region protest the military junta, April 5, 2021.

Hundreds of civilians have been killed in northwest Myanmar’s Sagaing region since the military seized power, as the area has become a center of armed resistance to the junta over the past 10 months.

According to an investigation by RFA’s Myanmar Service, at least 414 civilians have died since the Feb. 1 coup, including 309 people who were killed at the hands of security forces. The anti-junta Peoples’ Defense Force (PDF) has killed 105 civilians, many of whom it claims were local administrators acting as informants to the military.

The single most deadly crackdown in the region took place in Kalay city’s Tarhan ward, near the border with Chin state, when soldiers and armed police stormed anti-junta protesters barricaded inside Fort Tarhan on March 28 and April 7. At least 18 people died and many others were injured or arrested in the raids.

A member of the Mingin township PDF, who spoke on condition of anonymity for security reasons, told RFA that the incidents convinced him that he needed to do more than protest but to fight back against the junta with weapons.

“We would only be able to ask for peace if we had guns to counter theirs,” he said.

“We launched the resistance so that the oppression ends here, and our children will not suffer like us. When men joined the resistance, older women who could not join the fight took off their earrings and offered them to us to buy weapons. Even the women were very enthusiastic about the resistance in Sagaing region.”

There are 37 townships in Sagaing region and almost all of them have their own PDF groups. There are also groups with other names, combining for a total of nearly 50 resistance groups. In Myaung township, a group made up entirely of women recently joined a PDF team in attacking a police station.

A member of the Myaung Township Women Warriors told RFA that the anti-junta forces are becoming more organized as the resistance continues.

“At long last, the PDF groups in Sagaing region have become well-connected,” said the fighter, who declined to provide her name. “And our strength has grown day by day. Every group is becoming stronger. The oppressed have united and are getting stronger. And we carry on our armed struggle with strong conviction.”

According to local PDF members, the strength of the PDF forces in Sagaing region started with about four to five men per village in the beginning and has now increased tenfold. That is why, they said, the military has increasingly employed heavy artillery and airstrikes in a bid to crush the resistance.

PDF ‘terrorism’

Junta spokesman Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun denied that military operations are being carried out in the region, telling RFA that security forces are working to “bring stability” to Sagaing, which he claimed had been beset by PDF “terrorism.”

“We have found that PDF terrorists are recruiting in the villages. They make threats that they will kill villagers if they refuse to join,” he said.

“In some villages, whole families were killed, or their houses burned. Security measures are being taken there to ensure immediate stability.”

Last month, sources told RFA that around 30,000 residents from 30 villages in Sagaing’s Depayin township and 10,000 from 20 villages in nearby Shan state’s Pekon township sought refuge as government soldiers conducted raids in the area from Nov. 8-9, setting buildings alight under the pretext of fighting terrorism.

The 50 villages are centers of dogged resistance to the military regime, which has waged an offensive against ethnic armed organizations and anti-junta forces in the country’s remote border regions since seizing power from the democratically elected National League for Democracy government on Feb. 1.

Hopes for liberation

Aung Nay Myo, a resident of Sagaing’s Monywa township, predicted that the region will be the first to be liberated.

“Sagaing Region is politically and historically a strong base. We need to start a good opening move for any revolution from a base like this. That’s why we have the strongest anti-coup street protests and became the area with the highest number of armed clashes in [the resistance],” he said.

“It all started with strong protests in Monywa and then the resistance gradually grew stronger and stronger. … I think Sagaing region will become the first liberated area in the country.”

According to data compiled by RFA based on statements by the shadow National Unity Government, there were 597 armed clashes in Sagaing region in the five months from June to November and a total of 274 civilians and 1,137 junta soldiers were killed over the same period. The number of civilians killed by both sides in Sagaing in the past 10 months totaled at least 414, based on NUG monthly statements and reports from local media.

According to the Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies, more than 75,250 people have been displaced by clashes in Sagaing region in the nine months from the coup until the end of October.

Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.


Add your comment by filling out the form below in plain text. Comments are approved by a moderator and can be edited in accordance with RFAs Terms of Use. Comments will not appear in real time. RFA is not responsible for the content of the postings. Please, be respectful of others' point of view and stick to the facts.