Junta troops kill 7 villagers after rebel attack on gunboats

Killings were retribution and an intimidation tactic, residents say.
By RFA Burmese
2023.09.19
Junta troops kill 7 villagers after rebel attack on gunboats Smoke rises over Toke Gyi village of Katha township, Sagaing region, on Sept. 17, 2023 after Myanmar junta troops opened fire and raided the village.
Citizen journalist

Junta troops have killed at least seven civilians in Myanmar’s northern Sagaing region in what residents and rebel fighters say was retaliation for an attack on their gunboats by members of the armed resistance.

The killings are the latest example of deadly attacks on civilians by junta troops that rights groups say amount to crimes against humanity since the military seized power in a Feb. 1, 2021 coup d’etat. Thailand-based NGO Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma) says authorities have killed at least 4,092 civilians in the 31 months since the takeover.

The seven victims were killed Sunday after six junta gunboats carrying more than 100 soldiers, weapons, ammunition and food from Mandalay to Bhamo in Kachin state along the Irrawaddy River came under heavy artillery fire from the anti-junta People’s Defense Force, or PDF, paramilitary group, residents told RFA Burmese.

A few hours after the attack near Katha township’s Toke Gyi village – a settlement of around 200 houses located some 360 kilometers (225 miles) north of Mandalay and 30 kilometers (20 miles) west of the Kachin border – the gunboats docked and unloaded the soldiers, who opened fire and raided the area, the residents said.

“When they reached Toke Gyi village, they entered and set fire to the houses,” said one of the residents who, like others RFA interviewed for this report, spoke on condition of anonymity citing fear of reprisal. “They killed seven villagers who remained in the village.”

The resident said that troops shot and killed some of the villagers at first sight, and captured, tortured and killed others. He said all seven were killed on the same day and that four of the bodies have since been recovered.

“We also found traces of the other three being killed in some places,” he said. “[Of the four bodies recovered] two were shot to death. One had a bullet wound on the right side of his chest and another was shot in the head. The other two were found to have been burned alive."

The victims whose bodies were recovered are Aung Lin, 41, and Khin Maung Htay, 43, from Toke Gyi village; and Ye Maung, 30, and Nyang Tun, 38, from nearby Than Pa Yar Kone village. The bodies of Aung Than, 23, Ko Chal, 22, and Bo Bo Tun, 21 – all from Toke Gyi – remain missing.

Yae Le and Moe Sit raids

Residents said that the gunboats left Kathar township the following morning and anchored just across the border in Kachin’s Shwe Gu township, where soldiers raided Yae Le village and arrested 50 people.

“The junta troops arrested several men and women in Yae Le yesterday,” a resident of the village told RFA on Tuesday. “The women were later released, but the men were forced to work as porters, carrying equipment to [nearby] Moe Sit village.”

The resident said that the troops raided Moe Sit village on Tuesday.

More than 1,000 residents of Yae Le and Moe Sit were forced to flee their homes during the raids, he said.

Smoke rises over Yae Le village of Shwegu township, Kachin state, on Sept. 18, 2023 after Myanmar junta troops raided the village. Credit: Citizen journalist
Smoke rises over Yae Le village of Shwegu township, Kachin state, on Sept. 18, 2023 after Myanmar junta troops raided the village. Credit: Citizen journalist

The scale of military arson and total number of people who remain in the custody of junta troops from the two villages was not immediately clear.

RFA contacted Tin Than Win, the junta’s minister of natural resources and spokesman for Sagaing region, for more information about the attacks, but he declined to answer, saying that he has no knowledge of security and military issues. Calls to Win Ye Tun, the junta’s social affairs minister and spokesman for Kachin state went unanswered Friday.

Pro-junta channels on the social media platform Telegram reported that six bodies of PDF members were recovered during what they termed a “clearance operation” in Katha township, but RFA was unable to independently verify the claim.

Campaign of intimidation

An official with the Katha Township PDF told RFA that the junta troops killed the seven villagers as retribution for the attack his group led on their gunboats.

"One of their ships was hit quite a lot, so they approached the old village of Than Pa Yar Kone and then went up to Toke Gyi village, shot people, arrested them, and burned their houses," the PDF official said.

At least 45 houses were razed in the military raid, he said.

According to data compiled by RFA, at least 32 civilians from Katha township were killed in junta airstrikes, artillery fire and while being held in military custody in the nine months from January to September.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs recently said that more than 26,000 people have been displaced by conflict in Kachin state since the coup.

Win Naing, a representative of the People’s Hluttaw of Moe Kaung township, said the military kills innocent civilians as part of a campaign of intimidation that it hopes will erode public support for the armed resistance.

“If [soldiers] are hurt in fighting, they raid villages and attack innocent civilians who can't fight back,” he said. “That's how they terrify the people, hoping that they’d stop supporting the revolution. They use this strategy as a weapon.”

Translated by Myo Min Aung. Edited by Joshua Lipes and Malcolm Foster.

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