Mass Murder of Civilians in Myanmar’s Sagaing Region Amounts to ‘War Crime’
Radio Free Asia (RFA) *
At least 15 bodies
found in a remote jungle were brutally tortured and executed, villagers say.
The murder of more than a dozen people whose bodies
exhibited signs of torture and were left to rot in a forest in Myanmar’s remote
Sagaing region this week was carried out by troops loyal to the country’s junta
and should be classified as a “war crime,” witnesses and a rights lawyer said
Residents of Sagaing’s Kani township, where fighting has
raged between junta forces and a branch of the People’s Defense Force (PDF)
militia in recent months, told RFA’s Myanmar Service that they found the
hog-tied and severely beaten bodies of at least 15 people scattered in the
jungle surrounding Yin and Kone Thar villages on Sunday and Monday, days after
a government military unit left the area.
Photos obtained by RFA show several rigid, discolored
corpses littered face down on the forest floor, either naked or wearing soiled
clothing, stretched tight from swelling during decomposition.
The victims were not members of the PDF that was formed to
protect villagers following the military’s Feb. 1 coup d’état, but rather a
group of civilians ranging in age from their late teens to mid-60s who were
arrested after attempting to flee the arrival of junta troops on July 8, the
One resident, who spoke to RFA on condition of anonymity
citing fear of reprisal, said that his brothers’ bodies were among those
discovered in the forest and said the condition he found one of them in pointed
to physical abuse.
“He was lying on his stomach, with his legs tied with a
rope. He appeared to have been tortured. There were plenty of wounds on the
body and he seemed to have been dragged on the ground,” the resident
said. He had to cut the bindings before cremating the body where it lay
because “it was too risky to carry it back [home],” he added.
“I will never accept the rule of such an evil regime. I want
to appeal to the international community to intervene in this situation instead
of ignoring us during this crisis.”
RFA spoke with another resident who claimed he had witnessed
the military carry out the killings, but said he was too terrified to go on the
record about what he saw.
A source from Yin village, who declined to be named, said he
had never seen a body as savagely murdered as the ones found in the forest this
“As the military troops arrived, we tried to pacify the
soldiers as much as we could to avoid conflict, but this still happened despite
those efforts,” he said.
“This kind of brutality is unprecedented—not only in this
township, but throughout Myanmar. We have seen bodies piled like firewood and
covered under a sheet of tarpaulin, as well as traps set to injure or kill the
people who come to dispose of them. But this is so brutal. I have never seen
anything like it.”
Other villagers whose loved ones were among the dead said
the military no longer bothers to separate PDF members from civilians anymore,
“firing on anyone they encounter in the forest” and “tying up as many people as
they can find before killing them all.”
A member of the PDF confirmed that none of the victims were
part of his militia and vowed to continue to fight the military to bring them
“The ruthless killing of fleeing civilians demonstrates the
lowest level of inhumanity,” the PDF member said.
“This killing shows that [military chief] Min Aung Hlaing’s
regime has stepped up its brutality and ignorance. I speak for all PDF members
from Kani and around the country when I say that we will keep resisting them
however we can.”
On Feb. 1, Myanmar’s military staged a coup, seizing power
from Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD), rejecting its
landslide victory in November 2020 general elections as the result of voter
fraud. The junta has provided no evidence to back up its claims and citizens
from all walks of life have protested the junta.
Amid nationwide turmoil, the military has stepped up
offensives in remote parts of the country of 54 million that have led to fierce
battles with several PDF militias, including in Kani township, where more than
15,000 people from some 40 villages have been displaced by fighting between the
two sides since April 2.
Residents of Kani said that villagers are also forced to
flee because military troops regularly steal their valuables, destroy their
homes, and arrest and torture them.
Earlier this month, sources told RFA that at least 10 people
were killed between June 19 and 30 in Sagaing region alone, including
50-year-old Sein Min, who was among 15 residents of Kani’s Kin Ywa village that
were detained and tortured by junta troops and members of the pro-junta Pyu Saw
Htee militia. He was later shot, and his body was dumped in a river, according
to his wife, Moe Win.
And over the weekend, villagers discovered four dead bodies
believed to be civilians in the latrine of a home in Kayah state, where an
estimated 100,000 people have fled the area since fighting broke out between
junta troops and the local PDF on May 20. Residents of battle-ravaged Demoso
township told RFA that the bodies were so badly decomposed that they could not
be identified but were wearing civilian clothing.
According to the United Nations and aid groups, conflict in
Myanmar’s remote border regions has displaced an estimated 230,000 residents
since the February coup. They join more than 500,000 refugees from decades of
conflict between the military and ethnic armies who were already counted as
internally displaced persons (IDPs) at the end of 2020, according to the
Internal Displacement Monitoring Center, a Norwegian NGO.
Villagers in Kani township said Tuesday that most of the
bodies discovered earlier this week will be collectively cremated because the
risk of troops returning is too great for victims’ families to hold individual
funerals. They said efforts are still underway to determine exactly how many
residents were arrested by the junta last week or had fled the area.
Call to try ‘war
Min Lwin Oo, a human rights attorney from the Asian Human
Rights Commission (AHRC) Burma, said the mass killing in Kani township should
be classified a war crime and litigated accordingly.
“We have seen such mass killings and torture occurring in
the ethnic areas in the past—we have collected information about these
incidents and presented it at U.N. Human Rights Council for many years—but the
international response has taken too long,” he said.
“These delays have allowed the illegitimate armed forces to
kill with impunity.”
Aung Myo Min, human rights minister for Myanmar’s shadow
National Unity Government (NUG), called the killings in Kani “inhumane” and in
violation of international law.
“They chased after people who fled their homes to arrest,
torture and brutally kill them,” he said.
“During armed conflicts, combatants are required to avoid
harming civilians … But even if a soldier surrenders, he should be treated
humanely. This is international law. We denounce this ruthless mass killing.”
Repeated attempts by RFA to contact Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun,
the military’s Deputy Minister of Information, went unanswered Wednesday.
According to the Thailand-based rights group Assistance
Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), at least 906 civilians have been
killed and nearly 5,239 people have been arrested in Myanmar since the coup. 2021-07-13
*Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated
by Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.