Myanmar’s civilian death toll climbs amid soldier massacres, bloody clashes

The civilian death toll in Myanmar’s civil war continues to rise.

In the month through June 15, 123 civilians were killed by the military in the most fiercely contested conflict areas – in the northern region of Sagaing, central Magway and the eastern states of Shan and Kayah, according to tallies by Radio Free Asia.

Some of the people were shot dead or hit with heavy weapons during clashes between junta troops and rebel fighters, who have put up stiff resistance to junta troops throughout the country.

In other cases, such as in Kawlin township in Sagaing, residents were massacred after the military detained and used them as human shields, residents told RFA.

“Since they had to enter a minefield, [the soldiers] forced the detained people to walk ahead of them [carrying supplies] and clear the path,” said a resident of Khan Thar village, who like others interviewed by RFA Burmese, spoke on condition of anonymity, citing fear of reprisal.

“The villagers had to do everything they were assigned,” he said. “Then, [the soldiers] interrogated the villagers. In some cases, they killed them.”

Over the four-week period, junta troops killed 43 civilians in Sagaing, seven in Magway, 37 in Shan and Kayah states, and 28 in areas controlled by the Karen National Union ethnic rebel group, including Bago and Tanintharyi regions and Kayin and Mon states. Another eight were killed in Mandalay region and Kachin and Chin states.

‘No one dares’ return

In another mass killing, junta troops killed six civilians during a series of “clearance raids” on villages in Magway’s Yesagyo township from May 26-29.

A resident of Yesagyo’s Yay Lei Kyun area told RFA that the six – a 40-year-old woman and five men in their 30s and 40s – were hit by shelling, arrested and killed while fleeing the raids, or killed when returning to their village to put out fires started by junta troops.

“The soldiers killed men accused of being members of the People’s Defense Force,” the resident said, adding that the lone woman – a mother of two children named Ma Khin Mar Po – was killed by artillery fire as troops entered Mi Hpa Yar village on May 26.

“Between May 26 and 29, the troops burned 671 houses in our Yay Lei Kyun area,” he said.

The resident said that three columns of 250 junta troops took part in the raids on 27 villages in Yay Lei Kyun, which left “more than 3,000 people homeless.”

From May 25 to June 12, junta troops killed at least 35 civilians in southern Shan state’s Moebye township, according to the Karenni Human Rights Group. Among the dead were 10 women and three minors between the ages of eight and 17.

A resident of Moebye told RFA nearly all of the town’s inhabitants fled into the jungle to escape the fierce fighting and that “no one dares” return.

“When the soldiers knock on the door, they don’t open it,” he said. “If you do so, you would be shot dead.”

The resident said that prior to the latest clashes in Moebye, junta troops had entered the township, arrested women, and raped and killed them.

“That’s why no one dares to return to their homes,” he said.

Attempts by RFA to contact junta Deputy Information Minister Major Gen. Zaw Min Tin for comment on the killings went unanswered Wednesday. Previously, he denied reports of soldiers targeting civilians, saying the military only attacks members of the armed resistance.

‘Ruling through fear’

Banya, the founder of the Karenni Human Rights Group, told RFA that the military is “committing war crimes” with impunity and “ruling the people through fear” to maintain its grip on power that it seized in a Feb. 1, 2021, coup d’etat.

“Whenever it becomes difficult for [the military] to crush any armed organization, they kill the people in that region,” he said. “They do such things to instill fear among the people, to ensure there are no ethnic armed troops in the region. They let the people know that if there are ethnic troops in the area, ‘we’ll kill you.’”

Banya said the military seeks to “drive a wedge” between the people and anti-junta forces through its acts of terror.

Political analyst Than Soe Naing said the opposition in Myanmar is growing stronger and expects that the junta will respond with even more atrocities.

“As the people’s resistance increases, the junta’s violence will become more severe, and the number of civilian deaths will increase,” he said. “Since the junta is increasingly using airstrikes, I think the number of civilian casualties and loss of villages and houses will inevitably grow.”

In the more than two years since the military coup, authorities in Myanmar have killed at least 8,640 civilians, including more than 2,400 amid armed conflict, according to independent research group the Institute for Strategy and Policy (Myanmar).

Translated by Htin Aung Kyaw. Edited by Joshua Lipes and Malcolm Foster.


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