Myanmar: Army atrocities are on the rise in the central plains

Aerial view of a neighborhood in the Sagaing region town of Mingin which was burned down by the junta. The photo is dated February 3, 2022.
Aerial view of a neighborhood in the Sagaing region town of Mingin which was burned down by the junta. The photo is dated February 3, 2022. AFP

“I killed 26, I killed 26 people.

“How did you kill them, with your rifle?”

“Yes, of course, we killed them with the guns. Not with our hands.”

“We killed a lot of them by cutting their throats. I killed five… no eight, I think I killed eight!”

So goes the sinister conversation between three soldiers, visibly inebriated and proud of their prowess, in a video recorded by one of them on his cell phone. Presumably lost, the phone was recovered by a villager in Myanmar’s northwestern Sagaing region and then forwarded to Radio Free Asia, a U.S. government-funded radio station.

The phone’s contents, about 150 photos, are currently being stored and analyzed by the National Unity Government (NUG), the resistance’s parallel government. They are compiling evidence of war crimes committed by the Myanmar army since the coup that overthrew Aung San Suu Kyi’s government on February 1, 2021.

In addition to selfies of the soldier in the video, the phone also contains shots of about 30 men, apparently, some villagers, sitting shirtless with their hands tied, under the guard of soldiers. In the images that follow, the owner of the phone appears in front of the corpses of five men, blindfolded and with their wrists tied behind their backs, bathed in pools of blood. At least two of them appear to have had their throats slit.

In another set of photos, a teenager kneels with his hands tied behind his back, his face swollen, and he is being held down by a man pressing the tip of a knife above his heart. In the video of the three soldiers, one of them complains that he had to cut the bodies of dead people into three pieces.

Harassing the Tatmadaw

Along with several witness accounts published in recent months on social media or in the dissident media, these unbearable scenes confirm the ferocity of the military campaign against the resistance and the civilian population in Sagaing region. The central plains of this vast province, north of Monywa and Mandalay, is one of the earliest and most active areas of the rebellion. However, they are populated by Bamar, the majority ethnic group in Myanmar, who have been spared the decades of more or less sporadic fighting between the successive Myanmar juntas and the minority ethnic groups in the outlying regions.

Several of the incidents revealed by the photos took place in villages in the Shwebo Valley, not far from Ye U sub-district, which was notably targeted between May 10 and 12 by punitive army operations that left nearly 27 people dead.

The phone was found near Ayadaw, a little further south. These areas are hotbeds of armed resistance led by the People’s Defense Forces (PDF), the resistance commandos created in May 2021. They harass the Tatmadaw, the Myanmar army, by planting makeshift explosive devices where convoys pass. In many villages, a parallel administration has overthrown the network of administrators who remain loyal to the army, and they are targeted for assassination.

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