Myanmar Elderly Perish as Village Razed in Fire Blamed on Junta Troops

Residents say the army torched Kin Ma village after losing troops in earlier fighting.

Ashes are all that remain of some 250 houses burned down in Kin Ma village, in central Myanmar's Magway region, June 16, 2021. Citizen journalist

 Four elderly villagers in central Myanmar were killed when a fire tore through their village, destroying about 250 houses and sending 1,000 people fleeing to safety in nearby mountains, residents said Wednesday.

Residents of Kin Ma village in Magway region told RFA that the military set the fire Tuesday night, with one saying troops torched the village after up to 15 soldiers were killed in a shootout with a local militia.

Junta-controlled TV said troops were trying to clear “terrorists” from Kin Ma and found the village burning. The report said troops helped extinguish the fire.

"I heard that there were four people who died in the fire, a very old man and three old ladies. They were in their 80s and 90s,” said a resident of a nearby village of Pauk, who identified the man as Mya Maung.

“These elderly people were all sick and bedridden and couldn’t run. The soldiers got into the village unannounced and we didn’t have time to do anything,” the witness said.

“No one had expected them to set fire to the houses. We tried to rescue as many as we could,” the villager added.

A resident of Kin Ma village, who spoke to RFA’s Myanmar Service on condition of anonymity, said as many as 15 soldiers were killed in a shootout Tuesday with local militias, one the many fighting forces that have sprung up across Myanmar to fight junta troops after the military seized power on Feb. 1.

"Between seven and 15 soldiers were killed in a clash between the local defense forces and the military in Kyaukkwe, just east of Kin Ma village,” the villager said.

“Later, as the local forces retreated from the scene and while the villagers were fleeing to safety, the military set fire to Tin Win’s house, just across the street from the school in the south of Kin Ma village. The fire then spread to other houses until late into the night,” he said.

About 250 houses, two-thirds of Kin Ma village, were burnt to the ground and over a thousand people who were displaced are now hiding in the nearby mountains, the villager said.

Some people returned to the village Wednesday morning but ran back to safety when they saw soldiers in three trucks returning to Kin Ma village, villagers said.

Smoke rises from remains of houses burned down in Kin Ma village, in central Myanmar's Magway region, June 16, 2021, Credit: Citizen Journalist
‘Terrible crimes’

One villager said the attack by junta troops stemmed from a shooting about 12 miles from Kin Ma village Saturday, when someone opened fire at the house of the administrator of Dee Dot Kwin village. Soldiers found a motorcycle that was left behind.

“In connection with that, they thought one of the gunmen was from Kin Ma village and came to attack us,” said the villager, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Civilian resistance fighters from Pauk township had clashed with regime troops near Kin Ma village on May 31, the online news outlet The Irrawaddy reported Wednesday.

The British embassy in Yangon issued a statement deploring the military’s attacks on innocent civilians.

“Reports that the junta has burned down an entire village in Magway, killing elderly residents, demonstrate once again that the military continues to commit terrible crimes and has no regard for the people of Myanmar,” the mission said in a tweet.

RFA called the Deputy Minister of Information Major General Zaw Min Tun for reaction and comments on the incident but the calls were not answered.

The Thailand-based rights group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners says that since the Feb. 1 coup, security forces have killed 865 people in violent crackdowns on mass protests and detained, charged, or sentenced 4,911.

Local militias. or People’s Self-Defense Forces, meanwhile, claim to have killed more than 100 regime troops in guerilla warfare across the mountainous country of 54 million people.

In Magway’s neighboring Sagaing region, at least 4 junta troops were killed in clashes between local militia group and a joint force of regime forces and supporters of the pro-military Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) supporters Tuesday, local fighters said.

Two clashes in Mingin township broke out between the People's Defense Force and the military accompanied by USDP members and militia early Tuesday.

“They retreated and then it broke out again in the afternoon. Four of them were hit and one was found dead outside the village. At least four will die,” said a member of Mingin Township People's Defense Force.

“We can't go to look for them. They were at the bottom of the hill and we were from higher ground. There were no casualties on our side,” the fighter added.

Scene of widespread destruction in Kin Ma village, June 16, 2021. Credit: Citizen Journalist.
USDP abets junta troops

He said the military which used to get reinforcements from Yinmabin and Kani in Sagaing region, are now in Mingin Township and are pillaging and destroying villages, having driven more than 1,000 people from six villages into hiding.

“There isn’t any food left at home even if we want to go get it. The soldiers have taken away everything. Chickens, pigs, everything,” said a local resident, who said fellow villagers fled their villages in fear of shellings by the military.

“Vendors dare not come to the village and no shops are open. The health situation for the elderly is worrisome,” added the villager.

RFA has not been able to independently confirm the Mingin militia account that four soldiers were killed. Calls to Deputy Information Minister Zaw Min Tun to ask about casualties went unanswered Wednesday.

The Mingin Township People's Defense Force PDF said Tuesday it had declared the USDP a terrorist group because some of its members wore military uniforms when it joined junta troops in raids on villages on June 12.

Mingin has been a strong base for USDP, a military proxy party which lost badly in November elections to the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD), who victory was nullified by the junta’s Feb. 1 takeover, on unsupported claims of election fraud. 

"USDP members are wearing military uniforms. People in Mingin had earlier thought that the coup was a problem between NLD and the military,” said a member of the Mingin militia.

The fighter identified San Win of the USDP as leader of the forces helping regime troops.

“His men have been provided with weapons and are moving around villages at night,” said the Mingin militia member.

USDP spokesman Nanda Hla Myint told RFA both on telephone and through an online chat that he could not immediately comment as he has no authorization from higher levels.

USDP has said at least 60 of its members have been killed in the past four months in Sagaing region.

"Full exercise of the right to self-defense becomes an indispensable option for personal security if the rule of law is not fully reliable,” said a statement on the USDP’s official Facebook page on May 28.

Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Paul Eckert. 

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