Myanmar military’s 3-day arson attack forces 10,000 people to flee

Troops have been burning houses in 13 Sagaing region villages.
By RFA Burmese
2023.01.25
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Myanmar military’s 3-day arson attack forces 10,000 people to flee Villagers flee junta arson attacks in Yinmarbin and Salingyi townships on Jan. 24, 2023.
Citizen journalist

UPDATED AT 2:48 p.m. ET ON 01-25-2023

Around 10,000 villagers in two townships have abandoned their homes as junta troops continued scorched earth operations in Myanmar's northern Sagaing region, locals told RFA.

A column of around 100 troops started burning houses in Yinmarbin township on Monday and attacked villages in nearby Salingyi over the next two days.

“The army column has been raiding [our village] since 11 a.m. yesterday morning, forcing people to run away,” said a resident who didn’t want to be named for security reasons. “Now they are burning buildings near Htan Taw Gyi village. I can see the smoke.”

Residents of nine villages in Yinmarbin and four in Salingyi fled to other villages or the forest to avoid the troops. They said troops often arrest or kill civilians and torch their homes to punish them for their alleged support of local People’s Defense Forces.

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Villagers flee junta arson attacks in Yinmarbin and Salingyi townships on Jan. 24, 2023. Credit: Citizen journalist

The Institute for Strategy and Policy (Myanmar) said Tuesday a total of 43,216 buildings in Sagaing region had been destroyed between Feb. 1, 2021, and Jan. 14, 2023.

It said nearly 20,000 residential buildings in Sagaing were destroyed from November 2022 to mid-January alone, including more than 5,000 buildings in hardest hit Tabayin township and more than 4,600 in Shwe Bo township.

Kyaw Htet Aung, a senior researcher at ISP Myanmar, told RFA that the actual damage over the period may be more substantial. 

“We have compiled this list with as much information as we could get our hands on," he said, adding that sources for the data included independent media reports and statements by civil society organizations.

Aye Hlaing, the junta’s social affairs minister and spokesman for Sagaing, told RFA on Wednesday that he was "unaware of the current security issues" in the region and could not comment on reports of residential arson.

Trading accusations

The military reported on Tuesday that the shadow National Unity Government, ethnic Kachin Independence Ary and PDF "are attacking and destroying civilian targets" in Sagaing and Kachin states, adding that 1,122 houses had been torched in 23 separate incidents in 22 villages in Shwe Ku township, in Sagaing's Taze township.

However, an official with the PDF in nearby Tabayin township dismissed the claim and attributed the destruction to the military, telling RFA that his group would "never do anything to destroy the homes of residents."

“[The junta troops] burned the wooden houses immediately as they are flammable and then they placed something inside the [reinforced concrete] and brick buildings," he said, speaking on condition of anonymity, citing security concerns.

"After piling up a lot of explosives together, they set [the sturdier buildings] on fire. The explosives exploded, causing the buildings to burn and collapse. Then they placed landmines there before they left. Now some civilians have become the victims of those landmines.”

He accused junta soldiers from the Sagaing regional 33rd Light Infantry Division, as well as from Paungbyin township-based Light Infantry Battalions 367 and 368, of methodically carrying out the attacks in one village after another.

According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), more than 650,000 people have abandoned their homes in Sagaing region since the military seized power from Myanmar’s democratically elected government nearly two years ago.

Around 15% of people in the region have been forced to live in camps, by far the largest number of internally displaced persons of any of the country’s states and regions, ISP said.

Translated by RFA Burmese. Edited by Mike Firn.

This story has been updated to include additional arson data from Sagaing region, based on ISP Myanmar's reporting.

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