Scorched earth: Satellite images show village torched by Myanmar junta forces

Myanmar troops burned down 132 houses in Sann-myo village on Jan. 18 after a clash with local militia fighters.
2022.01.25
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Satellite images of Sann-myo village in Myanmar show the devastation from the fires. The image at left was taken Oct. 13, 2019, while the image at right is from Jan. 23, 2022. (Left: CNES/Google Earth. Right: Planet Labs. Analysis by RFA)

New satellite imagery obtained by RFA shows a Myanmar village virtually razed to the ground last week in what witnesses say was an arson attack by junta forces after a skirmish with local militia fighters.

Residents said about 40 or 50 troops came into the north side of the Sann-myo village in Gangaw district of the central Magway Region, firing their guns, as villagers fled to the south. The troops then began setting fire to houses.

The result of the Jan. 18 assault was carnage: about 130 homes burned. The core of the village was left in ashes. From the air, the charred ruins can be seen, surrounded by green farm fields on the banks of the winding Myittha river, which originates in the Chin hills to the west.

Various visual evidence compiled by RFA show the scale and intensity of the destruction. Videos taken by the Hnan Khar Youth Group, a volunteer group named after a community south of Sann-myo, shows the village on fire on the night of Jan. 18, then the smoldering ruins on Jan. 19.

A satellite image from Jan. 23  – alongside an image of Sann-myo taken two years previously – provide a stark comparison of what the village looked like before recent arson attacks and after.

Locals say that Sann-myo village once had more than 190 houses. Attacks by junta forces on Dec. 21 and then Jan. 18 have left only about 30 homes standing. Locals say about 1,000 villagers have sought shelter in surrounding forests and nearby villages.

The burnings followed firefights between junta forces and the local People’s Defense Force, part of a loose network of militia groups that arose in opposition to the Feb. 1 coup that ousted the country’s democratically elected government.

Khit Thit Media, a news outlet banned by the junta, published a recording this week in which the Magway region security minister purportedly admits that the junta’s administration had broken down in three townships of Gangaw district. Government offices were no longer functioning as officials abandoned their posts amid escalating attacks by PDF forces, the report said.

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Data for Myanmar, a group that documents the effects of the coup, told RFA in early January that 1,963 houses in 90 villages across the country have been destroyed in arson attacks since the coup. Of these, more than 400 were burnt in the Magway region, the group said.

The junta has not commented on the allegations that its troops set alight Sann-Myo. It has typically pointed the finger at militia forces, blaming them for arson attacks in towns and villages despite witness testimony to the contrary.

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